One Sunday afternoon, in Washington State, a 13 year-old- boy complains to his parents of their demand that he attend church three times a week – which, in his opinion, is two times too many. Unable to budge them from their insistence that as their child he has an obligation to do what they say, junior arrives at a novel conclusion – that his human rights have in some way been compromised. He calls 911, complaining of mistreatment.
The police arrive and after some discussion with their superiors and reference to their code books, agree that there is cause to believe that the child’s liberty has been compromised. They thereafter remove him from his parents’ custody. Three days later, a local judge, instead of immediately dismissing the case as a nuisance, acknowledges that the child actually does possess human rights that have been affected by the parents’ decisions and orders against them.
The parents, now frightened that an appeal could result in months, if not years, of the loss of their custodial rights, reluctantly surrender to the local court’s ruling. From that moment on, junior will be required attend church only once a week – and on the day and time of his choosing.
What is described above might suggest a comedic scene straight out of Disney’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, if it wasn’t all too real. It is eerily close in character to the story of Sheila Marie Sumey, a landmark parental rights case which reached the Washington State Supreme Court in the 1980s. In that case, the child’s parents had become alarmed when they found evidence of their daughter’s participation in illegal drug activity and escalating sexual involvement. Their response was to act immediately to cut off the negative influences by grounding her.
But when Sheila went to her school counselors complaining about her parents’ actions, she was advised that she could be liberated from her parents because there was a “conflict between parent and child.” Listening to this advice, Sheila notified Child Protective Services (CPS) about her situation. She was subsequently removed from her home and placed her in foster care.
Her parents, desperate to get their daughter back, challenged the actions of the social workers in court. They lost. Even though the judge found that Sheila’s parents had enforced reasonable rules in a proper manner, the state law nevertheless gave CPS the authority to split apart the Sumey family and take Sheila away.
If you think that this sounds all too implausible to become a common trend, think again. Since the mid-1990s the United States has been the signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), an international treaty that not only accords children these kinds of rights, but requires American courts to override our Constitution by imposing international rulings on American law. Yet, while the treaty was signed by President Bill Clinton in the mid-90s, it was never presented to the Senate for ratification.
That all may change soon. The call for a vote on the treaty could reach the United States Senate within 30 days. During the confirmation hearing for U.N. Ambassador designate Susan Rice in January, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) demanded a 60-day time frame for the State Department to complete its review of the international treaty and its submission for ratification. Boxer told Rice the UNCRC would protect “the most vulnerable people of society.”
But the United States has had very good reason to reject the treaty. Among the many aspects of parent -child relations that the treaty would seek to monitor or regulate are corporal punishment (which it would outlaw); a child’s right to leisure; the child’s right to reproductive health information without regard to parental involvement or permission; the sentencing of juvenile murderers to death and the sentencing of juvenile murderers to life imprisonment. According to the treaty, Government can override parental decisions based on “the best interest of the child” without proof of abuse, neglect, or harm. Under this new regime, American children would have legally enforceable rights to complain about parental decision-making in every area of their lives, including religious, economic and educational matters.
The negative scenarios which could occur — and are occurring — as a result of this dangerous notion, are both manifold and frightening.
Under the UNCRC, instead of following due process, government would have the authority to override parental choices at their whim because only government appointed monitors would be trusted to determine what is in “the best interest of the child.” In essence, the UNCRC applies the legal status of abusive parents to all parents. This means that the burden of proof falls on the parent to prove to the State that they are good parents—when it should fall upon the State to prove that their investigation is not without cause.
Moreover, a committee of 18 experts from other nations, sitting in Geneva, would have the authority to issue official interpretations of the treaty, interpretations which would possess binding weight in American courts and legislatures. This effectively transfers ultimate authority for all policies in this area to a foreign committee. Such rulings would be supported by international law which provides, according to Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties that: “A party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.”
The treaty would also have a pernicious impact upon American sovereignty because of the Supremacy Clause embedded in Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution. Under this clause, “all Treaties made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby.” In other words, any treaty, ratified by the Senate, effectively preempts state law. Since virtually all laws in the U.S. regarding children are state laws, this treaty would negate nearly 100% of existing American family law.
If the treaty is ratified it will immediately find itself in direct conflict with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. In Troxel vs Granville, a landmark case in 2000, the court found that parental rights are indeed fundamental rights guaranteed and protected by the Constitution. Parental rights, according to this ruling, are therefore the kind of integral “unalienable rights” referred to in the Declaration of Independence. The ratification of the Convention, if construed as interfering with constitutional rights, would set off a firestorm of litigation which would embroil the courts in years of contentious debate.
The overreaching assault on parental rights and family life, is a piece with the alarming penetration of international humanitarian law into our judicial system and government. We should not forget that the belief in principles of natural law which supersede sovereign enactments and aspects of domestic common law is one that has been similarly used to justify the indictment of Israeli generals, the prosecution of U.S. politicians and the detention of U.S. military personnel in countries around the world
More threateningly, human rights theory has been employed to justify the regulation of freedom of speech, the curtailment of press freedom and to stymie the exercise of the right to practice the religion of one’s choosing. Its boosters among the international human rights community – those who largely control the direction and efficacy of international human rights law- include such powerful non-governmental organizations as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders. But these are not transparent representative bodies in any respect and they propound philosophies which are avowedly inimical to the continuity of liberal democracy and the maintenance of traditional values.
With all this said, the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child would be a grevious mistake for the United States, endangering national and state sovereignty and enabling the UN to dictate how parents raise their children while encouraging children to defy their parents by doing exactly as they please.
No more destructive assault on the foundations of our democracy, our way of life and our fundamental values can be imagined.