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The following is part of an occasional series of voter education articles prepared by Catholic Citizenship to help the laity respond to the call to faithful citizenship.
According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” parents are “those first responsible for the education of their children.” The education of children includes not only preparation for future employment, but also preparation to be moral and virtuous adults. The Catechism notes further that it belongs to parents to raise their children according to parental values and beliefs, and “to choose a school for [their children] which corresponds to [the parents’] own convictions.” Schools thus act in furtherance of the parents’ role as educators.
As the Second Vatican Council noted in the Declaration on Religious Liberty, “The civil authority must therefore recognize the right of parents to choose with genuine freedom schools or other means of education.” The American Catholic bishops recognized in their statement on Faithful Citizenship that “No one model or means of education is appropriate to the needs of all persons.” Parents should therefore be able to choose whatever means of education is best for their children, “including private and religious schools.” The “genuine freedom” to select an option other than public education means that there should not be penalties for private, religious or home schooling, and these options should be available even to “families of modest means.”
The rights of parents are also “violated if their children are compelled to attend classes which are not in agreement with the religious beliefs of the parents.” Schools play an important role in the formation of character. Public education as well as private should “provide students with opportunities for moral and spiritual formation to complement their intellectual and physical development,” according to the U.S. Bishops’ statement on Principles for Educational Reform.
This statement acknowledges that “While a commitment to religious liberty excludes mandatory instruction in a particular faith, the religious liberty of students and parents is also violated by an “attitude towards religion … so theoretically neutral as to be anti-religious in practice.” Thus, in any given community, “it is possible to reach consensus” on basic moral and ethical principles, “and teach these shared values” without “teaching a specific religious faith.”
Parents’ duties in choosing schooling for their children extend beyond the selection of a school. The “Code of Canon Law” states, “It is incumbent upon parents to cooperate closely with the school teachers to whom they entrust their children.” Correspondingly, “teachers are to collaborate closely with parents who are to be willingly heard” regarding the education of their children. Parents have not only a right but a duty to be aware of the content of their children’s instruction, whether it is provided by public, private or religious schools.