My attention is often drawn towards horror stories involving religious schools and home-schooling parents in America who either misinform their children or shield them from modern education.
In 1995 Madeleine Albright, as the US Ambassador to the UN, signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This Convention has still not been ratified by the US Government, due in part to the efforts of special interest groups who have concerns regarding Article 12:
"Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child ... the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child..."
Some in the US also want to retain the ability to execute juveniles and sentence them to life imprisonment, which the Convention prohibits. While there is now a Supreme Court decision that finds the execution of juveniles to be unconstitutional, as of 2010 only six states prohibits life imprisonment for juveniles.
Returning to Article 12, this wording could easily be interpreted as prohibiting private and home-schooling that is oriented at religious indoctrination, although some of those agitating for ratification argue that this isn’t really the case.
What disheartens me is the occasional comment on reddit that reflects the attitude that a child is some sort of chattel who a parent is entitled to indoctrinate any way they see fit. This seems to border on child abuse, especially when the indoctrination requires that a child be kept ignorant of facts that are inconsistent with a parent’s faith.
A child home-schooled by young earth creationist parents will be taught that there is no support for evolution and plenty of support for creation. This is bad enough, at the very least the child should be presented with evidence for both sides of the argument (to the extent that it exists), but in order to prevent inconvenient questions, such a child is taught not to think critically. There is a wealth of material available to home-schooling parents, but a disturbing amount of it is linked to biblical thinking – which indicates to me that “critical thinking” for some people means being selectively critical of anything which is not biblical.
It’s amusing that such people consider atheists to be overly focussed on the material, when they assume there is a huge delineation between harming a child materially (in other words physically) and harming a child intellectually. If a parent were to remove the eardrums of a child, even if there was a religious motive, such as an injunction against modern music, this would be considered a clear case of child abuse. But if a parent retards the intellectual development of a child by limiting education to that which is consistent with the words of an ancient book, this is merely “home-schooling” as protected by Supreme Court rulings on parental rights and religious liberties.
The last thing an atheist activist should be saying when seeing evidence of abuse (by fundamentalists, creationists and the like) is “it’s the parent’s right to raise the kid anyway they want” – shame on those who do.