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CONSERVATIVES PUSH BILL ON PARENTS’ RIGHTS

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Government infringement on parental duties, from distributing condoms to teaching about "offensive lifestyles," is pervasive and needs to be stopped, congressional conservatives say in pushing a parental rights bill.

"The recent lower-court assault on the rights of parents to direct their children's education, health-care decisions and discipline is unprecedented," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the Senate sponsor of the bill, told a House hearing Thursday.Democrats said the bill, backed by conservative groups such as the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council, was unneeded and could have the unintended consequence of protecting child abusers.

"This is a bill that says we know better than the states how to protect parental rights," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

The bill, sponsored in the House by freshman Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., says parents have fundamental rights over the education, health care, religious teachings and discipline, including reasonable corporal punishment, for their children.

If a parent demonstrates that the government has usurped those rights, the measure says, the government must prove a "compelling interest" for intervention and use the "least restrictive means" in intervening.

Largent gave as examples of excessive intrusion local cases of school condom distribution, teacher certification of home-schooling parents, sexually explicit curriculum, the teaching of what he called offensive lifestyles and directives outlawing grounding or mandating bedtimes.

"Parental liberty is dying from the cuts of a thousand switchblades," said Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He noted that Congress passed a religious freedom act last year and "we earnestly urge that this body do the same thing to protect parental liberty against government intrusion."

But Marilyn Van Derbur, Miss America in 1958, said she was a victim of sexual abuse from her father and pleaded with the panel to reject the bill. "Do not make it more difficult than it already is for child protection services," she said.