The California legislature recently passed a bill that would let the state take custody of minors who travel to California for what the bill calls “gender-affirming” medical care. This means that if a child from another state runs away from home seeking access to medical gender transition—or is taken to California for this purpose by an adult—California will not return that child to his or her parents. The state will also provide the child with puberty-blocking hormones, cross-sex hormones, or even surgeries without the parents’ knowledge or consent. If Governor Newsom signs the bill into law, it will be one of the most explicit and radical assaults on parental rights that our nation has ever seen.

Anyone who acknowledges that parents are usually the best judges of what their kids need should vehemently reject this law and any other that usurps parents’ authority. In previous Public Discourse articles and elsewhere, I have argued at length that parents have fundamental natural rights to direct the education and upbringing of their children. These rights are based on the very nature of the parent–child relationship and of the natural parental obligations to which that relationship gives rise. The state has an obligation to respect those rights, by avoiding coercive intrusion into the family sphere except in cases of genuine abuse, neglect, or threat to the public order. It is clear that the proposed California law violates those rights, for—as I will argue below—loving and responsible parents can reasonably judge that medical gender transition is not in their child’s best interest, and the state lacks authority to override that judgment.

But the California law isn’t just morally egregious. It also directly violates well-established precedents in constitutional law recognizing respect for parental rights as essential to freedom and limited government. (The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal advocacy group, provides broader legal analysis of the proposed legislation, which can be found here.)

The Supreme Court, drawing on the common-law tradition, has explicitly recognized that parents have fundamental natural rights and obligations to control the care, custody, and education of their children. In Meyer v. Nebraska (1923), the Supreme Court ruled that a Nebraska law forbidding the teaching of foreign languages prior to ninth grade (and thus preventing parents from seeking such instruction for their children) violated this fundamental right of parents. In the court’s opinion, the justices observed that parental rights are among “those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” and thus that these rights are implicit in the notion of limited government that is at the heart of our constitutional order.

The above comes from a Sept. 20 posting in The Public Discourse.