Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Political Engagement at Family Research Council. This article appeared in WORLD Magazine on August 8, 2022.
A bill being debated in the California legislature is a cocktail of political disasters. Combining separate debates over parental rights and emergency powers, it creates one of the most direct assaults on parental rights in American history.
Senate Bill 107, which was passed out of a California Assembly committee last Wednesday, would give the state “temporary emergency jurisdiction” over a child if “the child has been unable to obtain gender-affirming health care or gender-affirming mental health care.” In other words, if parents do not support a child’s gender transition, the state of California could declare an “emergency” and take custody of the child. It is hard to overstate the sweeping revolution such a situation presents Christians and others unwilling to go along with radical gender theory.
Emergency powers are not new in California. In fact, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has held COVID related emergency powers for more than 800 days, effectively circumventing the California legislature on many critical questions. His willingness to declare, hold, and exercise emergency powers so arbitrarily over such a long period of time is part of what makes the creation of new emergency powers so concerning. Big government loves emergency powers.
Another way in which this bill is particularly odious is that it is not limited to children who live in California. The bill would allow the state to claim custody over any child who may have run away to California or simply visited on a family vacation. It creates an asylum for individuals wanting to “transition.” In an apparent attempt at reasonableness, the state’s custody would be merely “temporary.” Presumably, the state of California would return your daughter to you once it has attempted to turn her into a boy, but few find that to be much consolation.
Parents who are not eager to modify their children’s bodies are assumed to be dangerous.
It is true that parental rights, like other rights, have limits. Parents are not free to abuse or neglect their children under the cover of parental rights. However, the law has long assumed that parents have the best interest of their children in mind and are in the best position to know what is good for their children. As a result, a court may not substitute its judgment for the judgment of the parents until the parents have been found unfit. “Unfit” is a morally loaded term left for someone, somewhere to define. The logic of this bill means that parents unwilling to have their child subjected to the gender engineers may be considered “unfit.”
The terrifying thing about this bill is that it changes these long-standing presumptions in the law. No longer would parents be assumed to know what is best for their children, but parents who are not eager to modify their children’s bodies are assumed to be dangerous.
California State Senator Scott Wiener, who sponsored the bill, said it is necessary because of “brutal attacks on transgender children” in other states. Texas has said that gender transitions for minors could qualify as child abuse. Meanwhile, states such as Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, and Alabama have either passed laws or are considering legislation to prohibit sex-change procedures for minors entirely.
After decades of study, several European nations have reached the same conclusion as the states that outrage Sen. Weiner and have announced their decision to cut back on “gender affirming” interventions for lack of evidence they are helpful. Perversely, if this bill is passed, California parents who share the perspective of the medical community in Europe would stand to lose custody of their children for it. It is Sen. Weiner, not the parents of America, who hold an extreme position.
While the assault on parental rights is outrageous, the attempt to expand emergency powers is part of a broader effort. Immediately after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the White House began making preparations to declare a health care emergency to expand abortion in states that don’t want it. Similarly, the White House has considered declaring a climate emergency in order to enact environmental policies Congress has been unwilling to pass.
It doesn’t take long for a pattern to emerge. If a child’s parents make decisions that contradict the gender ideologues, declare an emergency so you can take away their parental rights. If some states don’t want abortion, declare an emergency so they don’t have a choice. If you can’t get your climate policy through Congress, declare an emergency so Congress is no longer relevant. There’s a name for this—tyranny. California threatens to use an “emergency” to harm children and subvert parental rights. That threat is the real emergency.