Last week I had the privilege of attending the Home School Legal Defense Association’s National Leaders Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. I hosted a table for the Parental Rights Foundation and ParentalRights.org, where I made connections, answered questions, and generally got to discuss our cause with some wonderful, like-minded leaders in homeschooling.
Then, on the final day of the conference, I was honored to give a brief presentation on our work over the last couple of years. Below is the content of that presentation, which ties our work to some of the biggest headlines of 2021 and 2022.
This was presented to a conservative, home schooling audience, so it highlights our work from an angle they would appreciate. If that is not your angle, please consider the context as you read.
Speech Connects Major Headlines
The story is told of a young football prospect. He’s from a small school, so there’s not a lot of tape on him, and he’s being interviewed by a scout who’s not familiar with his work.
Scout: Can you tell me your strengths?
Prospect: Speed, definitely. I ran the 40 in 4.23. Vision. I ran for 1,829 yards from scrimmage last year. Ability to finish. I scored 31 rushing touchdowns.
S: Wow! Anything else?
P: I’ve got great hands. I had 1,117 receiving yards and added 18 receiving touchdowns.
S: That’s amazing! What are your weaknesses?
S: Anything. On-field, off-field…
P: Oh, off-field. Well, I mean…. I do lie a lot.
To give you an update on ParentalRights.org, I want to look at 3 big moments in 2021 and the fruit we’re seeing from them in 2022 and likely beyond. When I start naming headlines and claiming them for Parental Rights, you might be inclined to think I lie a lot, too. These are amazing connections.
July 30, 2021, Orlando (FL) Spectrum News 13: DeSantis Fights School Mask Rules with Executive Order
A few weeks later, August 16, the New York Times: Tennessee’s Governor Allows Parents to Opt Out of Mask Mandates at School
September 10 Washington Post, Florida School Mask Fight Heats Up Again as Appeals Court Backs DeSantis …
December 1, The Texas Tribune: Texas’ Ban on Mask Mandates in Public Schools Back in Place after Federal Appeals Court Ruling
Y’all remember that news cycle, right? The federal government started talking about a second year of lockdowns and certain states were having none of it. And the revolt started with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s executive order of July 30, 2021.
Now, Florida law requires a governor to cite chapter and verse, to name that part of the law that empowers any executive order he makes. For Executive Order No. 21-175, he listed several of these “whereas” statements, including the following:
Whereas, on June 29, 2021, I signed into law H.B. 241, the Parent’s Bill of Rights, which prevents the state, its subdivisions, or any governmental institution, from infringing on the fundamental rights of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, or mental health of a minor child without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest and that such action is narrowly tailored and is not otherwise served by less restrictive means….
This pushback on Washington DC overreach, when it was finally successful, arose from a law establishing the fundamental right of parents to make decisions for their own children. And while that law was passed in Florida in June of 2021, it didn’t start there. ParentalRights.org volunteers Jim and Patti Sullivan started working on a version of that bill in 2015. We moved it forward with some success in 2016 and came one committee away from passage in 2018. That’s one committee out of SIX committee assignments that big bills go through in Florida.
Then in 2020, we had the pieces in place. Our 2015 sponsor, Kelli Stargell, was now in a key position in the Senate and our 2018 sponsor, Erin Grall, was in a key position in the House. She was also the 2020 sponsor. Our volunteer, Patti Sullivan, traveled 4-plus hours one-way, five times, to testify at five of the six committee hearings that year, and with support from both sides of the aisle, we got the job done. The ink wasn’t even dry on it when DeSantis used it to bolster his now historic executive order.
And that win continues to bear fruit in 2022. First, Florida this year added the Parental Rights in Education Act. Mocked by media as the “Don’t Say ‘Gay’ Act”, it would be more appropriately nicknamed the “Let Kids Be Kids Act.” It keeps “gender studies” out of kindergarten through the third grade. And it shows that the ball now rolling in Florida is not ready to stop. In fact, we’re just getting started.
And that’s not all. Neighboring Georgia glanced across the state line and decided, “we want some of what they’re having.” So, Georgia adopted its own Parents’ Bill of Rights, HB 1158, in May of this year, making them the 15th state to enshrine fundamental parental rights in state statute.
In 2023, we’re targeting more states, like South Dakota, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Pennsylvania: four states where we made progress in 2022 and are poised for victory in the year ahead. In South Dakota in 2023, like Florida in 2020, leadership who held things up in the past have termed out and won’t be back, so we like our chances.
Second Moment: Taking Bold Stands
Second big moment: Washington Post, November 3, 2021: Republican Glenn Youngkin Wins Virginia Governor’s Race. Same date, New York Post: Youngkin’s Victory Seen as Win for ‘Parental Rights’ in Education
Yes, I’m going to claim a slice of that credit for ParentalRights.org, too.
See, Jim Mason, who was then president of ParentalRights.org, interviewed Mr. Youngkin by Zoom for the HSLDA PAC after the final gubernatorial debate, but weeks before the election. And when Jim mentioned that “Homeschoolers are interested in parental rights,” Youngkin got excited and asked, “Did you know that in Virginia there is a [parental rights] statute? And the statute says, ‘A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions regarding the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.’” He was riding in his car, on Zoom by cell phone, and quoted the statute exactly.
Jim told him proudly—but humbly—“Yes, I was aware. We were a big part of drafting and championing that statute,” which was passed in Virginia in 2013.
So, while Terry McAuliff was foolishly doubling down on his position that parents should play no role in what their children learn in school, Youngkin knew—he knew—that he was standing on solid legal ground when he took the side of parents. I can’t claim any credit for Youngkin making the right decision morally, legally, and, as it turned out, politically. But I do believe from his excitement over our little statute that it empowered him to make his decision boldly.
And that bold uprising that seemed to start with Glenn Youngkin in Virginia didn’t stop there. Consider a couple more related headlines from 2022:
- New York Times, Feb. 16, 2022: In Landslide, San Francisco Forces Out 3 Board of Education Members
- ABC News, Aug. 24, 2022: DeSantis Celebrates as Most of His School Board Candidates Win Their Florida Races
That was just last month, when five of the largest counties in Florida flipped their school boards in favor of parental rights. And none of those flips was by just one seat. We’re talking a major groundswell that is still rising.
And even more recently, a California bill that would allow children as young as 14 to give legal consent to vaccines without their parents’ knowledge died when their session ended on August 31. Even in California, those opposing parents found themselves running into stiff headwinds—and out of steam.
As more people pay attention to the fundamental rights of parents, more politicians (including many new public servants like some of these school board members) are taking a stand for families, and the voters are supporting them, even in surprising places like San Francisco.
Third Big Moment: Laws with Teeth!
Now, the third big moment of 2021 didn’t get national headlines, and won’t ring a bell with most of you. But it was a game-changer as much as these first two. It was Senate Bill 400 in Montana, signed into law on May 12, 2021. It was only the second parental rights bill in the country to include a private right of action (following the example of a bill we championed in Idaho in 2015). That is, if the government infringes on your fundamental right, you can sue them for damages and lawyer fees. For the first time, parental rights really have teeth.
I was privileged to work alongside Senator Theresa Manzella on editing and pushing for this Montana bill, which she sponsored, and I was honored to attend by Zoom and testify at the Senate committee hearing on its way to passage.
And while there are still no headlines to point to, I’m excited to report that this year, every one of our parental rights allies has adopted this private right of action as a goal to include in model parental rights legislation. I’m not sure why we didn’t jump on this after Idaho, but this year Heritage, ADF, and others who promote parental rights bills are all on the same page we are, working to bring this private right of action to more states in 2023 and beyond.
To sum up, parental rights have come to the forefront of our national discussion in these last couple of years, and we were right there in the thick of it, not just passing new laws, but able to proudly display those solid foundations, like in Virginia, that we have already laid. Right now is a good time to support parental rights in our country. Yet, for all of that, we really are still just getting started.
And that’s no lie.