A legislator (literally: “proposer of law”) recently said that, “The state doesn’t own your children; parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.” The response from some people has been to characterize the legislator’s idea as a form of slavery. [Why didn’t they just go all the way down that road to the eventual Hitler references?]
Not that it takes two brain cells to know that this legislator does not think of his children as slaves, but I thought I would note something in the legislator’s defense:
From a legal standpoint, he is right!
Some people might not like it, but the whole reason that parents have the power to make virtually every decision for their minor children is that the *legal reality* is that children are property. They certainly are more than that, even from a legal standpoint, but nothing changes the fact that the law has for centuries dealt with children as property of the parent. Property on a different plane than regular, inanimate possessions, but property all the same. Dogs are property too, and even they have more rights than a TV. Children should be treated far better than a television, and even far better than a pet — and the law demands it, because the law recognizes the child’s personhood. Yet none of that contradicts the legal property aspect. Have I ever thought of my own kids as property? No, not really, because I have never considered them from a legal standpoint. You know who is prone to think of children from a legal standpoint — and for whom I hope that he/she does think of children from a legal standpoint? A legislator.
The state demands that we treat our children as persons, even while maintaining that they are our property. “Put your kid in a child-seat.” Why? Because despite the parent’s legal property rights over the child, that child is a person with certain rights that are greater than property rights. The kid has a right to be free from abuse and undue risk, so you need to put him in a car-seat.
The state has the responsibility of securing the rights of all people, even and especially those who are vulnerable, such as children, the elderly, the disabled, etc. So, the state demands car seats, and the state demands an education be provided. The state even demands medical attention when necessary. But the state is not and should not be stepping on the property rights of the parent. The state should only be acting to protect the personal rights of the children. It may be nuanced; it may be complex, but it is the legal reality. And I hope it stays that way, because if it goes, I’ll no longer have the right to decide how to raise my children.
Side note: Do you know which rights can in some instances trump the state’s right and responsibility to dictate certain things of a parent in regard to his child? The first right. The right enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The right to free exercise of religion.