August 10th, 2013

Compulsory education violates parental stewardship

The following is an op-ed I had published in today’s Salt Lake Tribune.

In an effort to tear down Sen. Aaron Osmond’s proposal regarding eliminating compulsory school-attendance laws in Utah, critics have produced a wide range of responses, absolutely none of which addresses the actual problem.

Utah law (62A-4a-201-1a) states that, “Under both the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state, a parent possesses a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and management of the parent’s children.” It also says that the state recognizes that parents have “the right, obligation, responsibility, and authority” to educate their children and that “the state’s role is secondary and supportive to the primary role of a parent.”

In other words, parents are the stewards of their children — not the state. Utah’s Constitution does require that the state provide schools for any children whose parents want them to attend, but a secondary and supportive role requires that the state not compel parents to utilize its services.

Compulsory-attendance laws presume state stewardship over children. Parents are compelled, under threat of fines and jail time, and with only limited exceptions, to send their children to government schools. This is a glaring conflict with the codified recognition of a parent’s “fundamental liberty interest,” and must be resolved one way or another by the Legislature. Either parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit, or they do not. There is no middle ground.

Critics have not addressed, let alone refuted, the stewardship question as it relates to compulsory-attendance laws. They instead evade this conflict, employing fear-mongering tactics by asking the reader to contemplate the plight of children in poor, rural families throughout Utah whose parents might, without being threatened by the government, choose to keep their child home to babysit so they can go to work.

Let’s make one thing clear: Those seeking to repeal Utah’s compulsory-education laws do not want children to be denied educational opportunities. We recognize that freedom sometimes produces outcomes that we may disagree with or find objectionable. But we are highly skeptical that a significant number of families would deprive their children of an education if given the choice.

Utah law also states that this “fundamental liberty interest” of parents to educate their children as they see fit “does not cease to exist simply because a parent may fail to be a model parent.”

Compulsory-attendance laws therefore are invalid in individual cases, and completely illegitimate when applied to the population as a whole. The state may not violate parental stewardship without demonstrating neglect or abuse in specific cases — an intentionally high benchmark since the state must by default be “secondary and supportive.”

It may be easy for most people to dismiss this conflict as nothing more than theoretical, but for many Utah parents, it is raw and emotional and very real, since they have butted heads with state bureaucrats, child services workers and truancy courts over this issue.

The threats and punishments imposed upon them stem not from alleged abuse or neglect, but because they failed to turn in an affidavit on time, or because they want to take a long vacation with their child, or because of a child’s ongoing medical issues causing lengthy absences. Education freedom offers flexibility in both curriculum and schedule, whereas the state’s system does not.

In order to actually recognize and protect the parental “right, obligation, responsibility, and authority” to educate one’s child, compulsory-attendance laws must be eliminated.

11 Responses to “Compulsory education violates parental stewardship”

  1. outside the corridor
    August 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    parental stewardship is a concept that is eternal–

    parental rights are, in this culture, anyway, pretty much dead–

  2. Greg
    August 12, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    “Truth is reason,” freedom and liberty make sense. Anyone opposed to a parents right to take care of their child in every way is misguided at best. The topic of education is a very good and clear example of the two opposing forces, tyranny or freedom. Thanks for the post Connor.

  3. iimx
    August 12, 2013 at 4:42 pm #

    “We recognize that freedom sometimes produces outcomes that we may disagree with or find objectionable.”

    What would those be?

  4. Gar Hunt
    August 19, 2013 at 9:49 am #


    Your question brings to mind the following quote…

    Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
    H. L. Mencken

  5. iimx
    August 19, 2013 at 3:05 pm #


  6. Gary Hunt
    August 20, 2013 at 10:40 am #


    Puritanism wanted to use government to create the “Kingdom of God on Earth”. They were the ones who initiated the first governemnt schools in New England. They also controlled what was taught in the schools as well as the laws which restricted behavior such as when you could shop (closed on Sunday), prohibition of what a person could drink, read, watch etc….

    I hope that explains Menken’s statement.

  7. iimx
    August 20, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Its not unusual for a religious organization to extend its influence to government to regulate the community. Perhaps extending its ideals beyond the pulpit. Doesn’t make it right, but I am not surprised.

    That is another feature of the town I used to live in. Its not LDS, but it had a dominant christian sect which had heavy influence on the sale of alcohol. Stores could stock wine and beer but sell them only during particular days or hours. Concentrated alcohol spirits could only be sold at state authorized stores. No alcohol could be sold on Sunday. That didn’t make much sense to me, as purchase time doesn’t dictate consumption time. With a little planning one could have any alcohol on Sunday or any day of the week. The amount one could purchase at any one time was also limited.

    I don’t think it was a bad idea, but I don’t think it prevented anyone from becoming an alcoholic or drinking on a day someone else thought they shouldn’t be.

    Most stores were closed on Sunday. I think that was voluntary. I don’t know what I picked up on, but I started to be able to tell who was part of this christian sect and who wasn’t. It might be my bias, but when someone seemed a little bit more alive and awake it was always someone not associated with the majority religion.

  8. Candace B.
    October 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    Didn’t Brigham Young warn about this sort of thing. I recall reading that he was very much against public schools and warned those in his times about it. I personally am all for homeschooling my child. Who knows my child’s needs better than me? I have college degree, just the same as a teacher, not only that but I have been the one charged with the responsibility of my child, not the state. It is me who will be held accountable to the lord for not teaching correct things, or allowing my child to go to public school and be indoctrinated and being taught things that maybe they shouldn’t be. I think what the fight over this law is really about is the state not wanting the loss of power and control that it exerts over individual families. I recall hearing somewhere that those who gain power will always seek to gain more power, that there is never enough power or control to be had. In all honesty the whole thing reeks of Satan’s plan to compel and force others to do things they don’t want to. As members of of the church it should be our duty and desire to uphold the agency and freedom of all so long as it doesn’t trespass upon our own freedom. I may not always agree with how others choose to use their agency, but we all stood up in the pre-existence for the right to have it and use it.

  9. iimx
    October 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”
    Matthew 5:41

  10. 23
    October 9, 2013 at 4:50 am #

    I think it’s very telling to see which Church leaders support socialism by putting their children in public schools. I believe righteous people with the Spirit would not voluntarily support socialism.

  11. April
    September 1, 2015 at 6:09 am #

    I am a mother of 4 in Georgia fighting charges of truancy due to compulsory law and would like to share my story of the nightmare I am now living in.

    Please contact me .

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