Truth Through Combat

A Father’s Right to Teach Polygamy

I’m not sure that “teaching polygamy” is the right term here. The issue is as follows: do parents have a right to express their religious views to children?

Now, when expressed in that way the question does not perhaps seem very controversial. Most of us would easily answer it “Yes.” However, in this case the father’s teaching concerns polygamy (AKA “plural marriage”). The reason the case ever went to a court of law was that the minor’s mother objected to the father teaching the kid about polygamous marriages. She sued and took him to court. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the father in a 5-1 decision, basing its ruling on the combination of the father’s parental rights as well as his right to the free exercise of religion.

While the right to a free exercise of religion is not comprehensive, it goes fairly far. States and Congress may limit this right in certain ways (polygamy is in fact illegal in all 50 states, as are animal sacrifices and the ingesting of peyote in some states). However, since the father was only expressing his beliefs to his daughter, she was not placed in any danger by his actions or speech.

The court’s decision can be found here:

Here’s a clip from the decision:

  • “…we conclude that a court may prohibit a parent from advocating religious beliefs, which, if acted upon, would constitute a crime. However, pursuant to Yoder, it may do so only where it is established that advocating the prohibited conduct would jeopardize the physical or mental health or safety of the child, or have a potential for significant social burdens.”
  • Note: “Yoder” refers to a U.S. Supreme Court case, Wisconsin v Yoder (406 U.S. 205). Yoder is another religious freedom case. In that case, the Supreme Court held that states may not restrict Amish parents from removing their children from school after the 8th grade on the basis of the parents’ religious beliefs. The court did so because it found that the state’s interest in promoting universal education was not strong enough to override the parental rights when conjoined with the 1st Amendment right to religious freedom.

Here’s a news clip about the case:

Perhaps the issue is not “Do parents have a right to express their religious views to their children.” Perhaps it should be stated as follows: “Do parents have a right to express religious views to their children even if those views — if acted upon — would lead to criminal behavior?”

Either of these two issues would make for a decent argument.

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