Do parents have the right to completely indoctrinate their children?In recent years there seems to be more and more shocking stories about fundamentalists totally indoctrinating their children,...

Do parents have the right to completely indoctrinate their children?

In recent years there seems to be more and more shocking stories about fundamentalists totally indoctrinating their children, such as in the film, ''Jesus Camp''. Do parents have the right to fully indoctrinate their children into their religion? Does the concept of religious home-schooling make you uncomfortable? Should very young children be protected from religious fundamentalist parents who want to completely immerse them in their religion?

Expert Answers
amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You might as well ask if cultures should be allowed to arrange their children's marriages or if homosexuals should be allowed to marry and/or adopt children.  All people have traditions, beliefs, values which they consider paramount to their lives, families, and very existence.  Yours doesn't include religion, but other families have religion as the center of their lives.  Just as some people (from India, etc.) come from a culture with thousands of years tradition of choosing their children's marriage partners regardless of love (much like a business arrangement or some kind of treaty), others come from a long history of God and religion.  Children obviously grow up and have a right to choose if they will continue to follow their parents' religion or not, but no one has the right to keep parents from homeschooling their kids using Christian (or other format) materials or enrolling them in Christian school.  Just as no one has the right to tell you how to rear and educate your own children, you have no right to force your opinion about religion on others.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the thing to remember is that no parents can actually control their children's minds.  They can expose their children to the values and beliefs that they would like their children to have, but they cannot determine what those children actually end up believing.  So I think that one important answer here is that it does not really matter if parents "indoctrinate" their children because their children will eventually choose what they want to be.

The other point I would make here is that you are assuming that fundamentalist Christianity is a bad thing and that there could possibly be a societal interest in preventing people from pushing their children towards such beliefs.  This is your own opinion, not a matter of fact.  Preventing parents from trying to inculcate beliefs (whether fundamentalist or athiest) simply because you do not approve of those beliefs would be a terrible violation of the values that America is supposed to stand for.

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All parents routinely train their children in the faith which they themselves practice; as they themselves were trained. It is in this fashion that all religions survive. Only three world religions, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are missionary religions. Although Christianity is the religion most often attacked for "indoctrining" (to use your words) children, these parents are doing the same thing that Jewish and Hindu parents do with their own children. They fact that you disagree with their methods (which obviously you do) does not mean they are wrong for doing so. Religious training is part of the nurture which parents provide for their children. If not, the world would be a much less religious place.

I do not agree with many fundamentalist's approach to religious training; in fact much of it disturbs me; still I respect the right of parents to raise their children in their own way, as long as it is not abusive or violent.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question seems to be expressed in a deliberately negative fashion. Let us remember that parents have the important job of doing the best they can to raise their children and bring them up to be responsible adults who can contribute to society. Therefore, for parents who do ascribe to a particular religion or belief, they have every right to bring up their children to be a Muslim or a Christian, for example, as this will be part of their job as they perceive it. Where I would question this would be in the case of parents who bring up their children with religious ideas that encourage their children to act in a way that endangers the lives of others and themselves.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One man's indoctrination is another man's education.  The difference between the two is fairly subjective, that is, we choose what we individually believe is appropriate to teach a child as he/she grows up.

Consider if parents did not have the right to teach their children whatever they thought best, however unpopular it might be with the mainstream.  Who gets to decide what is indoctrination and what isn't?  The family unit is one of the oldest institutions in existence, which is why parent rights are often held in such high regard by society.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Parents will indoctrinate their children whether they intend to or not, by what their children see them say and do and what they value. Sometimes parents are even surprised at the message they have sent their children, when they don't realize that they have. However some parents deliberately intend to brainwash their children. I don't think this is healthy for the child or society. I don't see how we can prevent it though, unless the parent is doing something illegal. Parents have a lot of latitude in how they raise their kids.
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree that "indoctrination" is a term which implies something negative. We all have beliefs and live by them; parents are no different. Even if they do not spend their time and energy proselytizing for whatever causes or beliefs they have, these things will be shown through their actions. What is important is that parents to teach their children to be active thinkers so they can make their own decisions as they mature and become independent.

bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Parents have a responsibility to raise their children with values and morals and civic responsbility and a work ethic. Those values can take the form of many religions, but they have a duty to make their kids social aware and good citizens. However, at some point (maybe starting around late middle/early high school) parents also have the duty to let their children go to start making their own decisions and forming their own beliefs.

lisoca | Student


My husband and his family are Christian, I am an atheist/agnostic. Now behind my back, such as when he is putting my 5-year-old daughter to bed (while I am putting my son) he is teaching her how to pray, teaching her about Jesus and god.

I am totally against it. She should be exposed to religion when she is big enough (maybe 10 years old) to understand, without being brainwashed, and make her own decisions.

What should I do? We have spoke about it several times, but he doesn’t respect my opinion. What are my rights according to the law? Can I bring this issue to the court, to for a Judge to decide?

Thank you!

frizzyperm | Student

Many people here suggest it's ok because when the child grows up it will make up its own mind. I think this is rather disingenuous. 

Religions are highly evolved social systems. They have developed methods for ensuring that their financial supporters (i.e. flock) find it extremely difficult to leave. One of the most effective ways to do this is to get them when they're young. All children are born atheist, in other words, they do not believe in God. But all major religions ceremonially claim babies, often with a permanent physical mark (circumcision) and make the parents promise to bring the child up as a believer.

Leaving a faith is not simple. Many Americans have spoken of the terror of daring to question their beliefs. And many more have spoken of the terror of telling other people that they have stopped believing. Please, watch this one-minute youtube home video of a teenager telling his parents he is an atheist.

Don't kid yourself that rejecting a highly religious upbringing is 'a free choice'. No, it is not. Religions are very powerful systems. They don't let you leave easily. In Islam the penalty for leaving is death. Do you think that Christianity hasn't evolved barriers to deter the people they caught as babies from making adult choices? The terror of hell? The total rejection of your community?

An extreme religious upbringing is a form of abuse, because you're not allowed to leave.

elfgirl | Student

In reply to #2: "You might as well ask if cultures should be allowed to arrange their children's marriages or if homosexuals should be allowed to marry and/or adopt children."

In the above quote you give 2 parallel examples for extreme religious upbringing.

Your 1st example is arranged marriage. I don't think this is a good parallel, because in an arranged marriage the young person in question is not a child, they are a young adult, and they can say, ''No, I don't like the person you have chosen.'' So, they are not a child and they also have a choice. Or did you mean 'Forced Marriage'? If you meant forced marriage, then all decent, modern people agree that forced married is barbaric and wrong. What's more, forced marriage is illegal in America. You cited a condemned, illegal activity in order to justify extreme religious upbringing. Forced marriage is wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Your 2nd example is gay marriage and gay adoption. Gay marriage, where legal, is a freely consenting partnership between two adults, it has no relevance to parent-child relationships. Gay marriage is clearly not a parallel example. As for gay adoption, it is currently not legal in 40 states. So your final example is also generally prohibited. 

Why did you twice try to justify extreme religious upbringing by paralleling it to things which are illegal and socially outlawed? It doesn't make sense.