From its conception it has been the aim of ParentalRights.org to protect in the text of the Constitution the rights of all parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children. To that end we have just added a new section to the proposed language in order to address an ongoing weakness in the practice of parental rights law.
The new section provides that “The parental rights guaranteed by this article shall not be denied or abridged on account of disability.”
According to a study of the National Council on Disability, parents with disabilities face child removal rates of anywhere from 40 to 80 percent depending on the nature of their disability – far above the national norm. Those who are deaf or blind face “extremely high rates of child removal and loss of parental rights.” The study concludes, “Clearly, the legal system is not protecting the rights of parents with disabilities and their children.”
The proposed Parental Rights Amendment offers the opportunity to address and correct this wrong, and the addition of this new language makes clear our intention to do just that. This is more than an opportunity; it is an obligation.
During the 20th Century the Supreme Court developed a doctrine of “protected classes” – special classifications of citizens against whom the government is prohibited from discriminating under the Fourteenth Amendment. Religious groups, racial minorities, and women are all among these “protected classes,” identified through a line of civil rights and anti-discrimination acts dating back to 1964.
In its embarrassing eugenics-era Buck v. Bell decision, however, the Court made clear ahead of time that the disabled were not on that list. Their opinion would be horrifyingly offensive to our modern sensibilities:
“It is better for all the world,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote for the 1927 Court, “if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
It is easy to dismiss this as a prejudiced view from a less sensitive time. Yet, even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, this case still hangs over the disabled like the sword of Damocles. It is a precedent that has never been over-turned; the government still retains the power to make decisions for the disabled that it could never make for more mainstream members of society.
In a much different 1979 decision the Court wrote, “The law’s concept of the family… historically…has recognized that natural bonds of affection lead parents to act in the best interests of their children….
“Simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child, or because it involves risks, does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state.”
Sadly, this legal presumption of parental fitness often fails to serve the parent who suffers a disability. According to the NCD report, “fully two-thirds of dependency statutes allow the court to reach the determination that a parent is unfit…on the basis of the parent’s disability.”
The time has come to correct this wrong, and the proposed Parental Rights Amendment is just the vehicle by which to do it.
We have said consistently that as parents we are all in this together. This is one more opportunity to prove that point.
Certainly we are hopeful that many individuals and organizations of the disability community will take an interest in this addition and join our fight to preserve parental rights. Already we are thrilled to welcome the endorsement of the National Federation of the Blind.
But even if other disabled citizens do not join our effort we will stand for their rights alongside our own. Because knowledge of the errors of the past is not sufficient to prevent their repetition; when it comes our turn we must be faithful to set a different course.
We are proud to set that course today.
To read the entire Parental Rights Amendment as it is currently proposed, click here.
Director of Communications & Research
Director of Communications & Research