Whatever else might be said about it, US District Judge Mark Wolf's decision in
Parker v. Hurley is a model of clear English prose.
"The constitutional right of parents to raise their children does not include
the right to restrict what a public school may teach their children," Wolf
unambiguously wrote in dismissing a suit by two Lexington, Mass. couples who
objected to lessons the local elementary school was teaching their children.
"Under the Constitution public schools are entitled to teach anything that is
reasonably related to the goals of preparing students to become engaged and
productive citizens in our democracy."
Entitled to teach anything. That means, the judge ruled, that parents have no
authority to veto elements of a public-school curriculum they dislike. They
have no right to be notified before those elements are presented in class. And
the Constitution does not entitle them to opt their children out of such
classes when the subject comes up.
As Wolf's straightforward language makes plain, it doesn't much matter what
that subject might be. The parents in the Lexington case objected to
"diversity" instruction that presented same-sex marriage and homosexual
attraction as unobjectionable. That message, the judge noted, contradicted the
parents' "sincerely held religious beliefs that homosexuality is immoral and
that marriage is necessarily . . . between a man and a woman."
But suppose instead that the facts had been reversed, with parents who
passionately support same-sex marriage filing suit because the school kept
emphasizing the traditional definition of wedlock a definition
democratically reaffirmed in many state constitutional amendments and statutes
in recent years. As Wolf applied the law, the result would have been the same:
The complaint would have been dismissed, and the school would have prevailed.
Read again the judge's words: "The constitutional right of parents to raise
their children does not include the right to restrict what a public school may
teach their children."
Similarly, the school would have prevailed if this had been a case about guns,
with parents objecting to a curriculum that emphasized the importance of the
Second Amendment and armed self-defense. Or a case about evolution, with
parents outraged because their children were being taught that Darwinism and
intelligent design were equally legitimate approaches to an ongoing debate. Or
a case about race, with plaintiffs suing because their kids were learning that
affirmative action amounts to reverse racism.
Parker v. Hurley, in other words, was not just a victory for gay-marriage
advocates or a defeat for Judeo-Christian traditionalists. It was a reminder
that on many of the most controversial subjects of the day, public schools do
not speak for the whole community.
When school systems deal with issues of sexuality, religion, politics, or the
family, there is always an overriding agenda the agenda of whichever side
has greater political clout. Parents who don't like the values being forced
down students' throats have two options. One is to educate their children
privately. The other is to find enough allies to force their own values down
students' throats. In Judge Wolf's more genteel formulation: "Plaintiffs may
attempt to persuade others to join them in electing a Lexington School
Committee that will implement a curriculum . . . more compatible with their
Once Americans may have agreed on what children should be taught, but that day
is long gone. On any number of fundamental issues, parents today are sharply
divided, and there is no way a government-run, one-curriculum-fits-all
education system can satisfy all sides. The only way to end the political
battles over schooling is to depoliticize the schools. And the only way to do
that is to separate school and state.
Parents should have the same freedom in educating their kids that they have in
clothing, housing, and feeding them. You wouldn't let the government decide
what time your kids should go to bed, or which doctor should treat their
chicken pox, or how they should spend their summer vacation, or which religion
they should be instructed in. On matters serious and not so serious, parents
are entrusted with their children's well-being. Why should schooling be an
Get government out of the business of running schools, and a range of
alternatives will emerge. Freedom, innovation, and competition will do for
education what they do for so much else in American life: increase choices,
lower costs, improve performance and eliminate conflict. So long as
education is controlled by the state, the battles and bad blood will continue.
With more liberty will come more tolerance and more resources spent on
learning than on litigation.