Yesterday, after weeks of numerous twists and turns and more edits and amendments than the Declaration of Independence, a simple two sentence bill guaranteeing parental rights cleared both chambers of the General Assembly by large majorities and are on their way to Governor Bob McDonnell to sign into law. Starting July 1, Virginia law will recognize that parents have a "fundamental right" to make "decisions concerning the upbringing, education and care" of their children. Short, simple and powerful.
The legislation, HB 1642 and SB 908, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County) and Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Spotsylvania), respectively, elevates the common law understanding of parental rights in place in Virginia for 400 years to that of a fundamental right. What’s in a word? Plenty. While no rights are absolute, courts give special deference to fundamental rights, requiring the state’s "compelling interest" to intervene.
These bills also codify the essence of the L.F. v. Breit Virginia Supreme Court decision in January that upheld parental rights. That’s especially important since 24 other state courts have reduced parental rights to "ordinary" — a standard more easily trumped by government authorities that attempt to interpose themselves in family decisions.
Even as the bills were being debated in recent days, evidence of the need for protecting parental rights came to light when we learned that the Obama administration is arguing in a federal court that parents do not have a fundamental right to home school their children (see TheGospelCoalition.org)!
We thank Delegate Pogge and Senator Reeves for their patience and skillful navigation through the often Byzantine legislative process, while negotiating over several amendments but not giving ground on the goal of reasserting the foundational principle parents by nature have to raise their children. We also appreciate the effort of the Home School Legal Defense Association who brought this bill to the General Assembly and worked tirelessly over the past several weeks to see it to completion.
Thank you for contacting your senators and delegates each time when called upon these last six weeks. In the end, many delegates and senators responded to the common sense of these bills as reflected in their constituents' beliefs.