A Parents Bill of Rights for the Rest of Us

The book bans, censorship, and attacks on LGBTQ kids that the GOP calls “parents rights” are way out of step with American families.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

There’s no question that parenting has gotten harder in this country.

Gun violence is now the leading killer of children in this country, a brutal fact made clearer with each new school shooting. Child care is out of reach for many parents, while the rising cost of college clouds the future for their kids. For many reasons, parents worry their kids’ lives will be more difficult than their own.

But if you ask the GOP and its shadowy network of far-right funders, what parents really want are vicious laws that attack LGBTQ kids, criminalize parents and doctors for providing medically necessary care, censor teachers and librarians, and allow the unrestricted proliferation of firearms.

House Republicans just passed an obscenely named “Parents Bill of Rights” that would ban books, restrict the gender and sexual identities of students, and allow a vocal minority of parents to impose their religious beliefs on the school curricula and budgets that everyone relies on.

Are Americans asking for this? Absolutely not.

In surveys, most Americans oppose anti-transgender legislation and the vast majority oppose banning books. Three-quarters of parents report feeling perfectly informed and satisfied about what their kids learn at school. Just 19 percent say that gender, race, and sexuality are being taught in a way that may conflict with their religious views.

Yet in addition to that House GOP measure, there are nearly 500 bills circulating in statehouses that would significantly curtailthe civil rights of transgender youth — and even criminalize doctors and parents who care for them. Many states are also firing teachers, defunding libraries, and threatening to prosecute educators for teaching anything politicians don’t like.

These extreme laws are deeply out of step with American families. But none of this is about serving families. It’s about advancing the agenda of wealthy, hardline bigots — people who want to make our kids less educated, and less safe, to advance their own partisan agenda.

A 2022 survey of public school principals showed a sharp increase in attacks from an aggressive minority of activists, all based on disinformation and “culture war” issues. These attacks occur with the greatest frequency in politically competitive “purple” districts, which suggests deliberate coordination.

By whom? Recent investigative reporting offers some clues.

Mother Jones magazine recently published emails showing how fringe Christian groups — like the so-called “Child and Parental Rights Campaign,” the anti-abortion “Alliance Defending Freedom,” the “Family Policy Alliance,” and the Heritage Foundation  — collaborate with conservative lawmakers to pass anti-trans bills across the country.

ProPublica published another investigation on the Teneo Network, an under-the-radar outfit chaired by Leonard Leo. Leo also leads the Federalist Society, the far-right legal outfit you can thank for the Supreme Court majority that gutted reproductive rights, among other bad rulings. He says his goal is to “crush liberal dominance” and end the national scourge of “wokeism.”

Members of Leo’s secretive group include Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, Ohio Senator J.D. Vance, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, tech mogul Evan Baehr, and many others. The billionaire-funded network connects hardline politicians to wealthy donors and legal support, among other services.

Needless to say, none of this does anything for parents.

A real “Parents’ Bill of Rights” would help working parents make ends meet, protect the rights of their kids regardless of their race, gender, or sexuality, and actually do something about gun violence — the leading killer of kids nationwide.

Let’s reclaim that idea from these wealthy, hard-right culture warriors and their radical, harmful ideologies.

This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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