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Shawn Vestal: Children’s rights don’t play in Idaho House

Kids in Idaho could use a right or two.

Or maybe just a hand. About half are living in “low-income” homes. A fifth live in homes headed by single mothers, whose unemployment rate is twice that of married men and women. The state ranks 41st for overall child health and well-being, according to a new scorecard.

Too bad the state House of Representatives is primarily concerned about their parents.

And the Constitution, of course.

You might have missed this, but the Idaho House, faced with all the woes of our day, voted for a nonbinding memorial Monday to support amending the Constitution to protect parental rights.

Protect them from whom, you might ask. But don’t be silly.

From the government. Federal, state and water district. From courts and schools. From international treaties that try to assert the rights of children. From the red-hot threat that our constitutional parental rights are dangling by a thread.

Ideally, of course, the interests of parents and children coincide. But when they don’t – when a parent wants to deny medical treatment because the Lord told them to, say – it’s good to know where Idaho stands.

I’m sure Congress will take this up, pronto.

I tried to get Bob Nonini, the Republican from Coeur d’Alene who brought this matter to the floor, on the phone to help me understand, but with no luck. A website backing the amendment warns of encroaching threats from the courts and bureaucracy.

“As the government gets bigger and handles more concerns of our everyday lives, parents may find themselves and their opinions being squeezed out of their children’s lives,” the site for www.parentalrights.org says. “Here in America, the role previously left to parents is being usurped by faceless bureaucrats.” 

During the House debate Monday, Nonini said, “Longstanding constitutional rights are now hanging by a precarious thread.”

Ah, yes. The precarious thread. Even dissenters seemed to agree about that precariousness. There is simply no limit, these days, to the hyperbole about the Constitution and the imminence of various threats. You can pick up that stick and hit anything with it.

You might have read that Matt Shea – whom Spokane County commissioners are considering to temporarily fill Bob McCaslin’s Senate seat – recently claimed it was an attack on the Constitution and Christian principles to question his fitness for the job.

I thought I’d read that thing, but for the life of me I don’t remember the Matt Shea Protection Clause. And now that I think of it, I can’t recall anything about parental rights, either.

In any case, Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said he didn’t want to go riding down any slippery slopes.

“Right now parental rights happens to be an inalienable right given to you by your heavenly father,” he said. “I’m not willing to demote it to a constitutional amendment.”

John Rusche has a different take. Rusche is a doctor and a Democrat and a legislator – that’s three strikes. He has a story that ought to give you pause if you can’t think of any reason that parental rights aren’t always so swell.

When he was in residency 30 years ago in Tucson, Ariz., Rusche treated a young boy who had collapsed with virtually no hemoglobin in his blood – the result of his parents’ insistence on a strict meatless diet supplemented only by goat’s milk, and a failure to add iron to his diet, he said.

“There just wasn’t enough iron in his blood to carry oxygen,” said Rusche.

The state – those ogres – had been called out to check on the family in the past, but it wasn’t like the parents were abusing the kids. They were just giving them a lousy diet. Exercising their rights.

The boy died.

“The parents were absolutely devastated by this,” Rusche said. “The children weren’t beaten, there weren’t any broken bones, they weren’t locked in a closet. They were just involved in a lifestyle that was detrimental to them.”

Rusche said he doesn’t usually pay much attention to nonbinding memorials because they’re usually just political “love letters.” But he says it amounts to declaring children “inferior citizens.”

I was thinking “property.”

The real source of this seems to be the same old boogeyman: the U.N.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child outlines a vision of a world where children share the same human rights as real people and are granted special protections as the most vulnerable among us. It’s one of about 50 zillion U.N. declarations or conventions or statements about human rights.

“Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity,” the convention says. “They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights.”

That is crazy talk, of course. Opponents say it would undermine parental rights and the Constitution. Every U.N. member nation has ratified it, except the U.S. and Somalia. Somalia – the land of child soldiers and forced labor – apparently plans to do so.

Nefarious or not, the convention has been around for some 15 years without the U.S. signing on.

When that changes, we’ll know where the Idaho House stands.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.


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