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The Constitutional Right to be a Parent 

The following is a footnote that I wrote for a collection of US Supreme Court and Superrior Court decisons that was compiled by ACFC and published in The March 1998 issue of The Liberator.  The truth that becomes apparent from all of these decisions is that. although it appears that the constitution appears to grant parents the inalienable right to be parents to their children, US judges use many words to twist that right into just so many pretzels.  The orginal document from which the article was condensed was compiled by the American Coalition for Fathers and Children (ACFC).  Their web site:  http://www.erols.com/afc

In condensing the collection of decisions, it came to me that we are obsessed with the rights of the individual, while at the same time forgetting that one person's rights become another person's burden.  Yet, all of the intelligent and clever legal and constitutional arguments that are being made have one underlying concern.  They are made to demonstrate the presence or absence of the validity that one's right's can be made to be inferior to another one's.  At the base of all of this is that no-one exists in isolation.  We all are parts (or at least should be) of systems that themselves are parts of levels in a hierarchy of systems comprising civilization.  The very foundation of the whole hierarchy of civilization is the group of social systems made up by these systems: husband-wife; parent-child; sibling-sibling; the family comprised of all of them; and, last but not least, the system of the extended family.
    Some have recognized that and the one very profound truth arising out that fact: any system is greater than the sum of its parts, but only then if all of the parts interleave, communicate, mesh and function well with one another.  All of these clever arguments ignore one important aspect.  That is the obligations of an individual to the social systems of which he is a member.  Thereby we ignore the needs and rights of all systems within society, because to demand one's rights requires that someone else is obliged to grant them.
    By ignoring obligations, each entity will feel entitled to enforce its rights, if necessary, to the extent that it will rob others of theirs.  What we have then is not a well-functioning society anymore that is better than the sum of its parts, but rather a conglomerate of entities, or better yet, a mob — at worst, the end of civilization as we know it.  It appears that the best legal minds have not come to terms with that truth, or else they would not be so terribly confused as appears to be the case in the bewildering array of judgments relating to the basic social system of society: the family.
    Would it be totally unrealistic to ask our legal minds to consider not only whether the state might have rights that are superior to those of the individual, but to think of the family unit in terms of a legal entity that has rights as well — with obligations and rights in relation to both, all of its members and the state?  Would it be totally strange to ask our legislators to consider addressing the rights and liberties of the family and, in connection with that, the obligations that an individual has toward the family and the state?

Consider what would happen if we were to build the only one of the Ten Commandments that contains a promise as a constraint into constitutional rights: "Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."  Why are we surprised and dismayed that we can't do well without it?  Are we truly that smart that we can afford to ignore the wisdom that civilization lived by for thousands of years?  —WHS

See also: Family Law — Table of Contents

2001 02 09 (format changes)
2003 05 02 (added reference to Family Law — Table of Contents