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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

Rights of the Parent

Rights of the Parent.

But the parent has also rights which are just as sacred as those of the child; and I am just as strenuous for the protection of them as Bishop McQuaid.

1. The parent has a right to exercise authority over the child so long as he does not violate the rights of the child or the rights of the State. His authority is that of the natural guardian of the child, not that of his owner or proprietor; and it can only be exercised within the limits of that relationship. The child's reason and conscience being undeveloped, the parent represents them during the child's minority, and is consequently bound to act from his own mature reason and conscience, not from his own arbitrary will or caprice. Being justly required to maintain the child, he has a right to such small services as the child may render without being deprived of the rights above defined; and he is no tyrant or oppressor in requiring from the child a general deference and obedience to his own commands. The natural affection for his offspring, and the natural wisdom derived from superior experience, which must be presumed to be his until the contrary is proved, entitle him to be free from all intrusive interference or petty supervision on part of the State in the exercise of his authority as the child's natural guardian; and it is only after a manifest and proved abuse of this authority that the State can justly interpose its shield over the child. From the nature of the case, there is little danger of too much interference by the State : the danger is all the other way.

2. The parent has also the right to supervise and direct the education of the child to a very considerable extent. Provided he does not withhold altogether the education to which the child has the right already explained, he may page 95 justly decide the place where it is to be acquired, and the agencies by which it is to be imparted. He may either educate the child himself, or send him to a public or private school at his own option. The child has simply a right to a certain amount of education; provided he is not deprived of this, places and times and instrumentalities are nobody's concern but the parent's. Especially with regard to religion and religious influences, the parent has an undoubted right to teach his child what he believes to be the most important of all truths. But there is a plain limitation of this right. Under the name of religion he has no right to teach anything which shall lead the child to trample on the rights of others or unfit him for the duties and responsibilities of good citizenship. The State has a wholly independent right to protect the child from such abuse of parental authority as this. No parent, for instance, has a right to teach his child that stealing is the proper way to secure a livelihood. If he does, the State has a right to interfere and see that the child is taught to respect the rights of others with regard to property. There is a certain natural morality resulting from the mere co-existence of many individuals with equal rights in one society; and this the parent has no right to disregard in any instruction he may give to his child. But he has a right to teach his child whatever views of religion, outside of this natural morality, he may hold to be true and precious. All that the State has a right to require is that the child shall not be prevented from knowing what is essential to the discharge of his duties as a member of society, and shall not be taught what is in-consistent with those duties.