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Economics, Human Rights, Satire

On achieving equality...

I was recently confronted with the disturbing statistic that evidences the ultimate case of gender inequality: the life expectancy of males is 6.1 years lower than that of females. This phenomenon must be properly discussed. What is a more valuable commodity than life? Nothing, I would say. And yet females habitually possess over 8 percent more of it than men. It is clear that when it comes to life, there is no level playing field in our society between males and females. I, therefore, call upon the government to take measures to empower men to overcome this glaring inequality. What we need is legislation, programs, and lots of funding. First of all the government should enact human rights legislation which will unequivocally state that males have the right to the same life expectancy as females. This legislation will empower the government to make proactive adjustments in Health, Social, and Education programs. I would like to share with you the following suggestions for such adjustments. An immediate transfer of medical research dollars from female diseases to male diseases. The inclusion of a mandatory life expectancy rights component to be taught in all our schools starting at the kindergarten level. The appointment of kommissars (also call commissioners) for each federal and provincial ministry who are to scrutinize all proposed legislation for life expectancy bias. Mandatory sensitivity training for all our judges to ensure that crimes against women are not more discouraged than crimes against men. Mandatory affirmative low-stress jobs action for all businesses employing more than 10 people to ensure that men will be employed in at least 50 percent of such jobs. The creation of Men's Issues Department at both the federal and provincial levels. Thus far my suggestions. If we do not want to lose the image of Canada as a caring and nurturing society we had better implement these suggestions regardless of costs. Of course, some naive people may suggest that it would help if men changed their lifestyle by smoking, drinking, fighting, and fornicating less, and by being more spiritual and less macho. However, though in the past this might have been a solution, we now know that we can only lead fulfilling lives if we are true to ourselves. Since institutions of education and our public media zealously indoctrinate the populace with this new gospel, it would be futile to appeal to "the man kind" itself to heal the wound of life expectancy; the government is our only hope.

This post first appeared way back in the May 1999 issue, but doesn't it seems like it was written for today? As Christians we believe God calls us not to be partial to rich or poor, black or white, young or old – He calls us to equality. But what kind of equality does God call us to? Is it an equality – as is called for in this article – of outcomes? Or is the equality meant to be in how we treat people? The world says the former, but God is calling us to the latter (Leviticus 19:15, James 2:1-9, Acts 10:34).

Human Rights

Human Rights need God

Do human rights need God? Bluntly stated, it all depends on your god. Those who reject that there is a God, say human beings are responsible for their own destiny and create our own morals… and even our own rights. What the State gives the State can take away But the standard secular account of human rights is mistaken. What is widely overlooked today is that a worldview based on godless evolution cannot provide a reasonable foundation for either the universality or the permanence of human rights. How can relativism, so prevalent in the West, guarantee human rights? Philosopher Jacques Ellul properly warned us that it cannot protect "established human rights...against arbitrary power or against totalitarian definitions of right and wrong." The truth is that human rights issues are deeply religious issues and therefore the God question cannot be avoided. But won't basing human rights on God lead to a theocracy? Not if we keep in mind what belongs to God and what belongs to the State. As the church father Tertullian (c.160-230) pointed out: "Render to Caesar money. Render to God yourself. Otherwise, what will be God's, if all things are Caesar's?" In other words, the State does not bestow human rights, but it does have a duty to recognize and safeguard these rights. It must protect not only specific political rights like (like voting) but also non-political rights such as the right to worship, freedom of association, parental choice in education, and so forth. Universal human rights only make sense when they are grounded on God We can make a compelling argument in a secular society for human rights which are originally from God and finally vindicated by God. As Christians our starting point is the Bible; it is the foundation for our thoughts and actions. So does the Bible offer a working perspective of human rights? And if so, what is it? The idea of human rights is not actually mentioned anywhere in the Bible, yet it is present everywhere. In clear language the Bible speaks to us about right and wrong, about good and evil, about God's law which is finer than gold and sweeter than honey, about doing justice to the poor, the needy, the orphans, and those who have no helper, about not withholding wages of your hired laborer, about showing mercy and doing justice to foreigners and sojourners, about doing good even to your enemies. Rights come from God's prohibitions The Bible also speaks of divinely inspired duties, including the Ten Commandments, which, when taken to their ultimate conclusion, form the basis of what we today would call human rights. The commandment, "You shall not murder," teaches that human life is sacred and implies that there is a right to life. However, the Commandments are formulated as human obligations to God and not as explicitly conferring tangible rights or benefits upon humanity. That said, the Commandments do, in fact, provide a philosophical basis for putting a high value on humans. And Jesus said that human duties to God are ultimately reduced to two: Love God with one's whole being, and love others as oneself (Matt. 22:34-40). The Bible deals with human nature and with personal relationships more than with specific problems. But much of its teaching nonetheless expressly bears on public policy concerns. This is seen in the role of the Old Testament prophets. Kings were reminded of their violation of God's law that protected the rights of weaker members of their society. The prophet Nathan rebuked King David for violating the rights of Uriah (2 Sam. 12:7-10). Elijah's rebuked King Ahab for violating the right of Naboth (1 Kings 21:17-22). Both Nathan's rebuke and Elijah's rebuke were taken seriously because David and even Ahab were rulers of Israelites' society that still recognized God's law and judgment. Not from our abilities, status, or age, but from in Whose image we are made The most basic issue at stake in the concern for human rights can be phrased very simply with the question, "What is man?” The undergirding rationale for all human rights is the fact that each one of us has been created in the image of God. The Roman teacher Lactantius (c.250-325 AD) noted, "We call everyone together to the heavenly pasture, without any distinction either of sex or of age" (cf. Gal. 3:28). Each person is highly valued in the sight of God. In fact, when a person's basic right to life is violated, God's right is violated. The Bible declares that any assault on another person is taken as an assault on God Himself. And He will ultimately vindicate the innocent and punish the criminal (Gen. 9:5-6). This concept of human dignity, as well as the ideas of justice, righteousness, and human freedom (especially freedom from oppression) flows from Scripture's high view of human beings. Consequently, we insist on the universal dignity, rights, and responsibilities of all human beings. When human beings are no longer seen as God's image-bearers, they will be treated as mere objects, products of evolution, a collection of molecules. As the Christian apologist Tatian (c.160) aptly commented, "Man is not, as the croaking philosophers say, merely a rational animal, capable of understanding and knowing... Rather, man alone is the image and the likeness of God." The special status of a human being does not depend on his or her age, race, size, stage of development, or condition of dependency. Each person is made in the image of God, and endowed with dignity (Ps. 8). Each human being is, therefore, a person possessed of a dignity we are obliged to respect by virtue of being created in the likeness and image of God. And each person is both an individual and communal creature, who lives beneath God's sovereignty, answerable to his norms of justice, stewardship, and love. The right to dignity demands that we treat all human beings with dignity. This includes protecting the rights of those with whom we disagree. Rights must be tied to responsibilities In much of human rights talk today, much is said about rights to this and that – people speak of a right to free post-secondary education, or government-provided abortion – while little is said about responsibility. God makes it clear, however, that we do not have rights for rights’ sake. Rights are tied to responsibility. We must accept responsibility for what we do. Responsibility is about caring for others. And ultimately the cause of human rights is inseparably bound up with our responsibility to God (Ps.139). We cannot shirk our duty like Cain did, when he said to God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" As Ed Vanderkloet noted in his essay The Iron and the Clay in the Foundations of Human Rights: "Man is first of all responsible to his Maker; his speech, his association, and all his action must be a response to God. It is here that the Christian and the humanist world-and-life view clash. For the creed of human autonomy does not allow for the element of responsibility to a sovereign God. If man is his own master and lawgiver, he is only responsible to himself." Why do human rights so often get violated? Why are human rights so often violated? Why can't the "reasoned intentions of all men of goodwill" bring about public justice and the renewal of society? Why can’t we all just get along? This sometimes seems to be a bit of a mystery to non-Christians. But we know the reason: Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Sin now disrupts the good order and harmony of God's creation. The curse of sinful transgression, of the broken covenant, and of the estrangement from God, fellowmen, and the world, now hangs over all human relationships. But the fall could not and did not destroy our responsibility to God. God maintains his righteous claims upon us even in a broken world. Do human rights need God? Yes, as only God can counter human sin. In becoming Man, Christ showed how much God values Man At the heart of the Christian view of human rights is Jesus Christ. He is God's answer for fallen human beings. In the midst of history is the cross, the liberating power of his resurrection, and his glorious ascension to a position of regal authority. There is no righteousness apart from Him. In Christ God became man and as the God-man, the long-awaited Messiah, He reveals perfectly the divine image (Col. 1:15), restoring the image of God in us. The doctrine of the Incarnation demonstrates the ultimate worth of human beings (John 3:16). Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully human, concretely lived in the midst of time and space. Through Jesus, the New Testament shows God's interest in people from all segments of society – Jesus demonstrated respect to the outcasts of society. So how do we practice true (James 1:26-27) religion? We turn to the Bible. It is the Word of Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is the Way we are to walk, the Truth we are to believe, the Life we are to live. The apostle Paul exhorts us to fulfill "the law of Christ," which means assuming the obligation "to bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2). The claims of love are at the heart of the "law of Christ.” As Justin Martyr observed, "All of us pray for you, and for all men, as our Christ and Lord taught us to do. For He commanded us to pray even for our enemies, and to love those who hate us, and to bless those who curse us." Will we ever gain a world where all human rights are perfectly respected? The Bible is clear. A perfect world will only come when our Lord returns. With one eye scanning the clouds, watchful for our Lord's return, we are to fix our other eye on the needs of our fellow image-bearers around the world. Therefore, here and now we do what is right in God's sight. And Christ entrusts the Church with the great commission as the supreme "declaration of human rights" – the right and responsibility of all people to hear and believe the gospel, and the right and responsibility of his disciples to proclaim it (Matt.28: 18-20). The Church's role The Church is the community of saints from every nationality, class, and race. As public light, salt, and leaven, she can make a positive contribution to human rights, showing concern for the public good. As she presents the Gospel of salvation to a spiritually lost world, she has also the task to equip the people of God, both personally and communally, to serve as fervent advocates of justice, peace, and compassion in every sector of life. And the Church has a unique position in the world. When one part of the Church suffers, there will be voices of encouragement from other parts; when another part of the Church becomes too comfortable with status and power, a word of admonition will be forthcoming. And the Church has made a difference for the good in many parts of the world. For all the ambiguities, foibles, and outright betrayal of Christianity's own best principles, the Word and Deed Gospel has opened the door to the development of dynamic pluralistic democracies which protect human rights of both persons and groups. The record shows that the Church opened her heart to the needy, cared for the poor and hungry, ministered to the enslaved and imprisoned, established orphanages and centers of learning, generated movements for societal reform, offered diaconal assistance, and sponsored programs of world relief. Already in the first centuries of the Christian era, the Church sought the public good. For example, Lactantius wrote, "It is an equally great work of justice to protect and defend orphans and widows who are destitute and stand in need of assistance. Therefore, the divine law commands this to everyone." Christians opposed and condemned the culturally imbedded custom of child abandonment. The 2nd-century Church father Clement of Alexandria condemned the Romans for saving and protecting young birds and other creatures while lacking moral compunctions about abandoning their own children. But the early Christians did more than condemn child abandonment. They frequently took these child castaways into their homes and adopted them. Despite all the persecutions suffered, they did not relent in promoting the sanctity of human life. Their persistent efforts eventually paid off. When Emperor Valentinian outlawed infanticide in 374, he also criminalized child abandonment. Conclusion Do human rights need God? Yes. The infallible Scripture of the Triune God gives shape to human rights issues. Human rights in the biblical perspective are rights given by the grace of God, recalling us to our task to make things right in this world just as Zacchaeus did: " If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold" (Luke 19:8). As believers in the pursuit of human rights, we must maintain an independent prophetic voice. As Vanderkloet noted: "We should realize that the humanist and Christian concepts of justice and rights are as incompatible as iron and clay....To build our political order on a foundation of those ingredients is acting like the man who built his house upon the sand. Such foundations will crumble and cause the collapse of the structure when the winds and floods of new ideologies arise and beat against it." Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at ReformedReflections.ca. A version of this article first appeared in the June 2008 issue....

Human Rights

The foundation of Human Rights? God's prohibitions

Human rights. A noble phrase, to be sure. But in a godless world, there are no rights, because a human right, to be a right, must demonstrate an authority greater than the authority of the state. This is why in a fascist state there are no rights, because there is no authority recognized as being superior to the state. Where there are only the edicts of the state, there are no rights, only privileges and crimes: privileges the state grants (and can take away) and crimes it forbids. Rights, privileges and crimes all have similar natures. They all spring from prohibitions. Take the edict “you shall not commit the crime of murder.” The crime is defined by a prohibition on human behavior. Similarly, the right to life springs from the Godly prohibition on human behavior found in the commandment “thou shall not murder.” This is the common nature between crimes, privileges, and rights. However, when the state respects no authority greater than the state (fascism), rights become nothing more than privileges that are granted by the state. Only when the state recognizes Divine Authority is there an opportunity for human rights. On crimes: The state typically defines crimes in two general categories: mala in se, and mala prohibita. Mala in se are crimes that are inherently evil, like murder. Mala prohibita are crimes only because the state says they are, like, for example, going 55 miles/hr in a 40 miles/hr zone. The state which fails to recognize Divine Authority cannot declare crimes mala in se, - inherently evil – because there can be no good and evil without the recognition of a moral order superior to the state. Likewise, a state which fails to recognize Divine Authority can make no claim to the “rule of law” rather than the “rule of edict.” The rule of law implies that members of the ruling class can be held accountable to a standard which has greater authority than the state. When the state recognizes no authority superior to the state, there is no law – there is only tyranny. On privileges: The state typically grants privileges under two general categories: grants based on the pragmatic effect of the privilege (weighing the degree to which the privilege will do the most good for the greatest amount of people), or grants based on feudal relationships. Feudal societies are present now in most western countries, most Marxist countries, and virtually all dictatorships. Under feudalism, your rights are based upon who you know, not on equal status under the rule of law. However, for some unknown reason, the people behind the granting of privileges have a need to establish some basis for each grant, and usually, these bases are set forth within their roster of privileges. By setting forth reasons, the granting of privileges doesn’t appear to be what it actually is: the exercise of naked force. For instance, the Preamble of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the foundations for the “rights” proclaimed therein as: the declaration of the international family of governments (we say it is so) the proclamation of the common people (the common people say it is so, at least so much of their opinion that we were actually willing to listen to) the necessity to create the rule of law in order to stop rebellion (the pragmatic reason) faith in equal human rights and human dignity (patronizing the religious community with a “faith” statement that is otherwise patent nonsense, since there are no human rights or human dignity under secular humanism). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by a mere majority of the general assembly of the United Nations, with the Soviet bloc and Saudi Arabia abstaining. Because the vote was not unanimous, the declaration is not even “global” let alone “universal.” Furthermore, because it makes no claim to Divine Authority, it is setting out only a roster of privileges. Further still, it is non-binding on all of the member states. Consequently, calling the document a Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a patent lie. In reality, it is merely the Advisory Declaration of a Majority of the UN General Assembly as to preferred government-granted privileges. The Canadian Human Rights Act is modeled on this Universal Declaration, adopting similar class distinctions. Initially, the Canadian Human Rights Act did not protect people on the basis of their sexual orientation, while the Universal Declaration did. The CHRA was subsequently amended by judicial fiat to encompass this group. On human rights: As I have said, the commonality among crimes, privileges, and rights, is that they spring from prohibitions on human interaction. Crimes and privileges are proscribed by the actions of the state, although quite often that state will call the privileges they grant “rights” when in fact, the edict itself is a tort or even a crime (anti-discrimination legislation which claims to set forth a “human right” is in fact a civil wrong when the sanction is a fine, and a crime when the sanction includes incarceration). Privileges may approach actual rights only when they correctly (that is to say, rightly) identify the right as pronounced within the Godly order (such as the right to worship freely), but when such “rights” are granted by the state – and therefore subject to revocation – they are not rights; rather, they are state-granted privileges. Consider how far we have strayed from this understanding. In 2006, the governing Socialists in Spain submitted a bill to grant “human rights” to four species of animals. The species were chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans: the so-called “great apes” or “pongids.” The Spanish government sought to attach “human” rights to apes by edict of the state, apparently because they believe that apes are human too. Human rights spring from prohibitions on human behavior. The right to free speech – a trait indigenous only to humans - for instance, springs from the prohibition on the government to act contrary to free speech. God-given rights Now, consider the Godly prohibitions set forth in Exodus 20: I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shall have no other gods before me. Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shall not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shall not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shall not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God gives thee. Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s. It is from this roster (although this is not an exclusive list) that our “human rights” spring. Let me stress here that we have no “right” as opposed to the will of God – He is the author of our faith, our salvation and our rights. But from this roster, human rights accrue to us because if God has prohibited it, who is man to overrule? We therefore have a right to hold our God as superior to all other proposed gods, including the state, the financial system, the school system, the dollar, consumerism, capitalism, Marxism, fascism, communism, socialism, and so forth. God has commanded us to have no God before him; we therefore have a God-given right to be free from the state placing itself above God. From the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the modern world, there is a failure of certain leaders to recognize that it is God who establishes powers and authorities on earth according to His purpose. As Nebuchadnezzar put it: “I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that lives forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Daniel 4:34-35). By means of the prohibition in the Second Commandment, we obtain the human right to reject idol worship. No state has yet to recognize this right, yet Germans had a God-ordained right not to worship the idol of Nazism. Russians had a God-ordained right not to worship the idol of Vladimir Lenin. Americans have a God-ordained right not to worship pagan idols. Canadians have a God-ordained right not to worship secular humanism. All of us in the modern world have a God-ordained right not to worship the religions of mother earth, the sun, the solstice, science or Darwinism. We have a God-ordained right to reject idols. And so it goes. We have a right to be free from adultery. We have a right to own our property and to be free from theft. How broad is the right to property? The Tenth Commandment declares that we have a right to any thing that is ours. This includes our marriages, our families, our employment relationships, our intellectual property, our real property and our personal property. Thou shall not steal, and thou shall not covet. It is from these prohibitions that we claim God’s ordination of our right to property. Right to life But let us take a moment to discuss the right to life. God says, thou shall not kill. The Hebrew term used in this instance is rashach (to intentionally kill a human being) rather than the term shachat (to take the life of an animal or human). This prohibition creates the right to be free from murder – the right to be free from someone intentionally taking your life. This is the source of our God-ordained right to life. We must obtain the sense of this, because there can be no question that the rising international state is concluding quickly that there are too many people on earth, who are eating too much food, using too much oil and creating too many “greenhouse gases.” Unless the state is reminded that there is an authority to which the state will ultimately answer, their solution, which is almost always death, will soon be upon us, particularly when they conclude that your right to life is merely a state-granted privilege – one that they gave, and one that they can take away. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the July/August 2008 issue....

Human Rights

Should Christians be free to obey our conscience?

In recent years there’s been a worrying downward trend for religious freedom in both Canada and the United States. Examples abound of Christian T-shirt printers, bakers, photographers, print-shop owners, wedding dress makers, florists and caterers who are being forced – through human rights commissions, or through lawsuits – to participate in same-sex weddings in violation of these various business peoples' consciences. Each of these Christian business people said they would bake, cater, arrange flowers, print invitations, take photos, print T-shirts, etc. for a gay person's birthday or retirement party or any other celebration – they just wouldn’t do it for a same-sex wedding (the only exception was the wedding dress maker, for obvious reasons). This means the objection is not about discriminating against gay people. It never was. It's very specifically about endorsing a definition of marriage or a specific act that fundamentally violates God's design for marriage. Stand up for others I know of Christians who can, with a clean conscience, bake, photograph, etc. a gay wedding. And I know some who can't (see 1 Cor. 8). This is a legitimate discussion to have between Christians. The much bigger question is: should the State force the latter group to do as the former? If you are a Christian and you advocate that the State is justified in making Christians participate, in any way, in a gay marriage, I believe you've ripped the rug from under yourself – if it is fine for the State to violate other Christians’ consciences this time, what's to prevent them from violating yours next? If a Christian photographer has to shoot a gay wedding, does a church have to rent their hall for a gay wedding? (This happened in British Columbia in 2005). Or must an organist play for a gay marriage ceremony? Or will a Christian marriage commissioner be forced to officiate for such a celebration? (In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, this is the case). Negative implications of the bill for Christians Does this mean that I’m ready to let the State allow the same kind of discrimination against Christians? If an atheist decides he doesn't want to take photos of a Christian wedding, am I okay with that? Well, the State can't force all citizens to embrace, encourage and support the Christian faith, because that wouldn't be freedom of religion, would it? Freedom of religion is freedom from the State, and not from fellow citizens. Your Charter rights protect you from the busybody government interfering in your religious practices and beliefs. They are not meant to make the government interfere in your personal or professional relationships in order to promote, oppose or defend your religion. So, to be clear and consistent, I do expect and accept being shunned by others because of my Christian beliefs. (Christ predicted it, didn't he?) I would not expect the State to go to bat for me if a gay bookstore refused to sell my book on a Biblical understanding of gay-marriage, or if an Islamic school refused to hire me as a janitor. If I wanted to publish a Christian defense of capital punishment, I wouldn't expect the State to force a Mennonite printer to publish it for me. With liberty comes responsibility. That includes responsibility to go find another printer, or baker or candlestick maker. André Schutten is the General Legal Counsel, and Director of Law & Policy for ARPA Canada....

Human Rights, Parenting, Politics

How mom and dad can fight Big Brother

Governments in BC, Alberta and elsewhere have shown they want to use government schools to teach children that their gender is something they can choose. But gender isn’t a choice, and to teach impressionable children otherwise is to mislead them. Still, despite many parental objections, governments continue to move forward with these plans. It's important we understand, then, that this isn’t the first time a government has tried to override parental rights in education. Politicians and bureaucrats in various jurisdictions seem to be regularly devising new ways to thwart the freedom of parents to direct the education of their children. These government have the backing of intellectuals who produce academic materials arguing that parental rights in education need to be severely curtailed or even abolished. These intellectuals aim to persuade lawyers and judges that parental rights are unnecessary and no longer need to be recognized in law. Thankfully, not all intellectuals think that way. In recent years, a law professor named Stephen Gilles at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut has written a number of scholarly articles defending parental rights in education over against statist arguments. “Statist” here refers to the belief in the supremacy of the government – the State – over individual and family freedom. Arguments and counter arguments One of Professor Gilles’ most famous scholarly articles is entitled “Hey, Christians, Leave Your Kids Alone!” which was published in the Spring 1999 issue of Constitutional Commentary, an American law journal. In it he took on the Statist arguments of another law professor, James Dwyer, that Dwyer proposed in his Religious Schools v. Children's Rights. ATTACK #1: Parents harm their children What Dwyer argued was that religious education is harmful and damaging to children and therefore the government needs to protect children from the harm their parents will impose on them through a religious education. In short, Dwyer sees parental rights as an obstacle that must be eliminated to ensure the wellbeing of children. This differs only in degree, but not in kind, with what provincial governments have sought to do via their school systems. In BC the school curriculum was rewritten to promote homosexuality and parents were limited as to whether they could opt their children out of these classes. In Alberta and Manitoba the government wants to use the schools to promote transgenderism, over against our objections. And in Quebec the government wants schools to teach the equal validity of many religions, which is the very opposite of what we as parents want to teach our children. Our secular governments thinks they knows best. ANSWER: No, Parents know their children best But if our governments think like Dwyer, we have a friend in Professor Gilles. He completely rejects Dwyer’s statist perspective and demonstrates that following Dwyer’s proposals would, in fact, be positively harmful to children. Why? Because parents have a much better grasp of what their children need than government officials, so transferring decision-making power to those government officials would undermine the children’s well-being. ATTACK #2: Government knows best Dwyer’s statist thinking gives us a glimpse of where our government may be heading in the future. Dwyer provides a theoretical foundation for the use of government coercion against conservative Christians, an idea that is popular among some left-wing intellectuals. As Gilles explains, …many law professors see religious traditionalists – especially Christian Fundamentalists – as extremists whose beliefs and practices are irrational, without value, and positively dangerous to themselves and others. The dispositions these opinions induce are not limited to preventing religious traditionalists from gaining government power; they also include using government power to counter and undermine religious traditionalism as a movement. ANSWER: Parents know best In contrast Gilles wants to promote what he calls “parentalism,” which maximizes parental rights. This view has not just the Bible but history behind it. In the past, in the Anglo-American countries (of which Canada is one), it has always been assumed that parents act in the best interests of their children. Gilles calls this the “parentalist presumption” which he summarizes as follows: the state may not override a parental decision unless it overcomes the presumption and demonstrates that the parents' choice is in fact harmful to the child. ATTACK #3: Some parents are lousy Naturally, then, the next question is to determine what constitutes “harm” such that the parentalist presumption can be overcome. Gilles answers this way: If parents starve or brutalize their child, or prevent the child from acquiring foundational skills such as reading, writing, and calculating, there is consensus that they are doing harm, and state intervention is entirely appropriate. From time to time there are instances where the government may legitimately need to take action to protect children. While God calls on parents to care for their children, He also gives the State the power to administer justice, so when parents neglect their children the State does have the jurisdiction to step in. Most people would agree that children who are being starved, or tortured, or deliberately prevented from acquiring literacy and numeracy skills by their parents would need help. However, outside of these extremely rare occurrences families should be left alone by the government. ANSWER: The government always makes a lousy parent Now, parents are imperfect. We all fail to one degree or another. That leaves an opening for opponents of parental rights to point to these instances of parental failure and use them to justify increased government control over children. But Gilles points out that this line of reasoning is faulty: The relevant question is not whether robust parental rights are perfect when measured by the yardstick of children's best interests, but whether they are superior to alternative regimes that give the state more control over children's upbringing. To this question, the longstanding answer of our legal tradition has been that state authority over childrearing is more to be feared than comparable authority in the hands of parents. Parents make mistakes…but they are far better than a “government as parent” alternative. Of course, that’s the very point that Dwyer, and others of his ilk, will dispute. He argues that the government is much better suited to determine what is best for children. Therefore the government, rather than parents, should have ultimate control over education. So what answer does Gilles give? The flaw in this approach is its blithe assumption that state agencies, and above all courts, will expertly and disinterestedly pursue the best interests of children. A moment's reflection will show that courts are neither as well-placed as parents to discern the child's best interests nor as interested in ensuring that the child's welfare is in fact advanced. Unlike parents, judges will never have the time or the day-to-day contact necessary to acquire an intimate understanding of the procession of children who would come before them. Nor will they have to live with the many-faceted ramifications of their childrearing decisions. God has crafted a wonderful way to raise children that the government simply won’t be able to improve on. Parents have much more at stake in the well-being of their children than any employee of the government. Parents know their children much better and will have to endure the consequences of any bad decisions they make. In other words, the incentive for parents to watch out for the best interests of their children is infinitely higher than any social worker, teacher, or judge. That’s why it is absurd to suggest that these public employees are better at determining the best interests of the children. Nevertheless, theorists like Dwyer write as though teachers and judges are best suited to determine what’s good for children. Really? Gilles will have none of it: I find it naive to describe the run of state employees in such idealistic terms, let alone to believe that they will more often be better judges of a child's best interests than that child's parents. State agency personnel may spend years thinking about what is best for children – but parents spend decades doing what they think is best for their own children, and living with the consequences. Parents are far more likely to get it right, even if they have fewer course-credits in child development or education theory. Because children are young and immature, they need to be under the authority of adults. People like Dwyer who claim to be promoting children’s rights are not suggesting that the children be allowed to determine their own best interests. They just want the determination of best interest to be done by government employees rather than parents. Gilles notes that this is an issue of who has authority in the lives of children: Thus, the question is not whether our childrearing regime will entail other-determining governance of children by adults; it is which adults will enjoy the freedom to engage in this other-determining behavior. That’s how we need to present the issue: which adult will do the job best. When the government treads on parental toes we need to ask, “Are you trying to say that you think a government employee working 9-5 is a better parent for my child than me?” ATTACK #4: We should have a broad understanding of harm Historically, Anglo-American nations have recognized parental rights, with the only limits on these rights involving the rare instances where parents harm the children. So if the State can only act when a child is being harmed, we can predict what statists will do – they’ll want to greatly expand what we view as harm. So, for example, Dwyer hates conservative Christianity and what it stands for. Thus he argues that teaching children certain Christian doctrines is harmful. What are these harmful doctrines? Dwyer believes that teaching children that sex is only for married couples harms those children because it restricts their freedom. He also believes teaching girls that women have different roles than men is harmful. So he wants the government to prevent parents from teaching conservative Christian tenets to their children…to protect the children from “harm.” ANSWER: Labeling anything the government disagrees with as harmful is arbitrary As Christians we need to highlight the sheer arbitrariness of Dwyer’s definition of harm. We need to highlight that he is simply defining as harmful that with which he disagrees. In fact, Dwyer’s proposal has clear totalitarian implications, as Gilles points out: If the government can forbid parents and teachers to communicate any message it decides (based on value-laden and highly debatable criteria) is “harmful to children,” then the government can control the transmission of ideas to future generations. Conclusion Prof. Gilles has shown us what to watch out for, and how to present well-reasoned argumentation for defending parental rights in education. Since parents have such powerful incentives to promote their children’s best interests, it is clear that they should have virtually unhindered authority over their children. Government employees and institutions never have as much at stake in the well-being of children as the children’s parents. A tiny number of parents occasionally abusing their authority do not undermine this fact. To think that government employees will make better decisions about children than parents is naïve at best. And to use an anti-Christian ideological concept of harm to determine what children should be taught, clearly leads to a totalitarian government. Parentalism, as Prof. Gilles calls it, is much more reasonable and consistent with freedom than the statist perspective of the left-wing intellectuals. A version of this article was first published in the March 2016 issue under the title "Government knows best? Stephen Gills shows us how to defend parental rights"...