EDITORIAL: Legislation does parent rights wrong


Kennedy Petersen

EDITORIAL CARTOON: Student Rights Tug-of-War

Parental rights is a big buzzword in politics and education right now. Many Nebraska state senators have claimed to stand for parental rights, even proposing recent legislation under the title Parents’ Bill of Rights. 

     The Parents’ Bill of Rights grants parents the right to challenge “inappropriate content,” and to request that school libraries get rid of challenged books. 

     Down the same legislative list, 200 lines below the Parents’ Bill of Rights, is the Let Them Grow Act, which would ban Nebraskans younger than 19 from receiving gender-affirming treatments, a decision that currently is made under medical guidance at the discretion of  the minor and their parents or guardians. 

     One bill removes a parent’s ability to make a medical decision for their own child at no cost to anyone else, and the other bill gives parents decisive power over school content at the cost of educational diversity for a whole school. This raises the question as to whether the Nebraska unicameral’s agenda is to advance parental rights, or to suppress the rights of LGBTQ+ kids.

     The Let Them Grow Act suppresses LGBTQ+ kids, particularly transgender kids, in an obvious way, but the Parents’ Bill of Rights is more subtle. It lets parents request that books they deem inappropriate be removed from school libraries. It defines “inappropriate” as anything that “lacks serious literary, scientific, artistic, or political value for minors” – a standard that can be read differently by different parents.

     There are many styles of parenting. Some styles prefer to protect children from “adult” content until they reach adulthood; others are open to exposing their children to mature content in a safe space so they don’t have to figure things out on their own from less reliable sources. There is nothing wrong with either parenting style, but there could be endless debate over the merits of a book when it ultimately comes down to how each parent chooses to raise their children. The Parents’ Bill of Rights directly interferes with the rights of parents by allowing one style of parenting to prevail over the other within school walls.

     Based on data collected by PEN America, a nonprofit organization that protects free expression through writing, 41% of books banned nationwide between July 2021 and June 2022 contained “LGBTQ+ themes, protagonists, or prominent secondary characters.” This statistic coupled  with the open-endedness of the Parents’ Bill of Rights should raise concerns for both the LGBTQ+ community and the honesty of the Nebraska legislature.

     Neither the Parents’ Bill of Rights nor the Let Them Grow Act serve to expand parental rights. The Parents’ Bill of Rights makes it so that one parent can determine what is appropriate for all of the children in a school, regardless of what the other parents think, and the Let Them Grow Act removes a parent’s right to consent to their child’s medical care. If protecting parents’ rights is a goal of the Nebraska legislature, it’s earning a failing grade.