Parental Rights Win in Tennessee!

On Tuesday, May 28, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed into law Senate Bill 2749 (SB 2749), the Families’ Rights and Responsibilities Act.

This law, which takes effect July 1, establishes that “[t]he liberty of a parent to the care, custody, and control of the parent’s child, including the right to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of the child, is a fundamental right.”

It also demands strict scrutiny protection of these rights, stating that “[a] government entity shall not substantially burden the fundamental rights of a parent as provided under this section unless the government entity demonstrates that the burden, as applied to the parent and the child, is required by a compelling governmental interest of the highest order and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

In addition, the law provides a private right of action, whereby parents whose rights are violated can sue the government agent or entity who has violated their rights to have their rights enforced.

With the passage of SB 2749, Tennessee becomes the 20th state in the nation to protect fundamental parental rights under state law. Additional states recognize parental rights as fundamental by court precedent, but have not yet incorporated their protection in the legal code.

SB 2749 was filed by Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) on January 31 and passed the Senate, with amendments, on a 24-5 vote on March 28. In the House, it was further amended and passed by a vote of 61-30 (4 present, not voting) on April 23. The Senate then concurred in the House amendments on April 24, sending the bill to the governor.

Representative Jeremy Faison introduced a companion bill, House Bill 2936, also on January 31. His bill move forward in the House until late April, when it was replaced with SB 2749.

SB 2749 contains sections dealing with parents’ rights in public schools and in medical contexts, including prohibiting a public employee from “encourage[ing] or coerc[ing] a child to withhold information from the child’s parent.” This addresses a deeply concerning practice in some schools where children take on entirely different identities at school than at home, without their parents knowing about it.

The Parental Rights Foundation worked with a strong coalition to see this bill become law to protect Tennessee families. We submitted a letter in committee in favor of the House measure back in March, and Board of Advisors member (and Parental Rights Foundation founder) Michael Farris was on hand to persuade Tennessee Senators to support the bill. 

Properly applied, this law will protect Tennessee children by keeping their parents not only “in the loop,” but in the driver’s seat regarding the vital physical and mental health decisions and treatments that will shape their entire lives. That’s because parents, not government actors, know their children best and want the best for them. 

Sadly, there are rare exceptions, but the general rule is that parents love their children and act in their best interests. This law will ensure that Tennessee parents have the legally recognized authority to do just that.

Thank you for empowering us to be a part of victories such as this one in Tennessee. Working together, we can see additional states move to protect children by empowering parents in the future, as well!