As a parent in Florida, I am witnessing firsthand the devolution of local parenting groups. Parenting groups like the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) used to be supportive communities where parents shared educational concerns and sought solutions together. However, over time, a disconcerting shift has occurred. What began as genuine parental engagement has taken a dark turn as extremist groups like the Moms for Liberty show up at board meetings demanding the end to diversity and equality training for teachers, the censorship of books, and elimination of acceptance of trans/LGBTQ+ students.
In recent years, the landscape of parent groups in America has taken a troubling turn. What once served as a platform for concerned parents to engage in their children’s education has increasingly become a breeding ground for hate and discrimination. While conservatives have long championed “family values,” new tactics are being deployed to restrict curriculum and target transgender children, all under the guise of “parental rights.” It is crucial for secular humanists to respond to these challenges and promote inclusivity, equality, and respect for all children and families.
A new report titled The Changing Face of Extremist Groups in America sheds light on the alarming transformation of certain parent groups into monitored hate groups. Published by PBS NewsHour, the report highlights the dangerous tactics used by these groups to further their agenda. The article emphasizes the need for vigilance in identifying and countering extremist ideologies that threaten the well-being and rights of vulnerable communities.
We face a choice in how to move forward. In his book, Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief, Dale McGowan states, “each generation of adults has a choice to pass on traditions of violence and fear—or refuse to do so.”
The line between activism and extremism can be blurry, and it is vital for society to scrutinize groups that use aggressive tactics under the guise of protecting family values. Under the banner of “parental rights,” some extremist parent groups have taken aim at educational curricula, seeking to restrict or eliminate discussions on topics such as sex education, diversity, and inclusivity. This assault on comprehensive and inclusive education perpetuates discrimination and harms marginalized students.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recently named Moms for Liberty an anti-governmental extremist group. At the recent summit for this group, speakers advocated for limiting LGBTQ+ rights, for eliminating critical race theory, and for promoting exclusionary policies in schools. Their actions threaten the decades-long progress by school systems in creating safe and inclusive environments for all students and turn monthly school board meetings into forums for Bible readings and rants aimed at manipulating parents into believing that teachers and administrators are trying to “groom” students and unduly influence them.
One concerning aspect of this trend is the implicit Christian privilege that often underlies the actions of these groups. By framing their initiatives as expressions of their faith, they seek to elevate the rights of Christian parents above those of other religious or non-religious parents. The dangerous merging of religious beliefs and parental rights not only undermines the foundational secular principles of our nation but also continues to discriminate against individuals who do not follow the predominant faith.
One recent development that demonstrates the harmful consequences of such actions is the movement to ban books in Florida public schools. This push to restrict access to books, backed by conservative groups, restricts discussion of critical topics such as systemic racism and the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, effectively erasing their presence in the educational sphere. By denying students the opportunity to learn about diverse perspectives, these policies perpetuate ignorance and hinder social progress (PBS NewsHour, 2023).
The impact of these changes and the actions of extremist parent groups have severe consequences for children. By restricting comprehensive sex education, they leave young people ill-prepared to navigate relationships, to define the meaning of consent, and to understand their own bodies. Such limitations can lead to higher rates of unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and unhealthy attitudes toward sexuality.
Attacks on transgender children are particularly alarming. Denying transgender youth their identities, excluding them from appropriate healthcare, and targeting them in school settings contributes to higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. The mental and emotional well-being of these vulnerable children must be prioritized over ideological agendas.
As secular humanists, it is our responsibility to counteract the harmful narratives perpetuated by extremist parent groups like Moms for Liberty. We must advocate for comprehensive and inclusive education that empowers children with knowledge, empathy, and critical thinking skills. We must raise our voices at local school board meetings and stand in solidarity with all communities that are being impacted.
Additionally, we should support organizations dedicated to protecting the rights and well-being of marginalized youth. In our local communities, we can promote positive change through community engagement, advocacy, and education. Collaborating with like-minded individuals and organizations, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliations, strengthens our collective voice. And when necessary, legal action can be a powerful tool in safeguarding the rights of marginalized individuals and countering the influence of hate groups.
We must challenge these extremist ideologies and work toward a society that celebrates diversity, embraces scientific knowledge, and ensures every child is treated with dignity and respect. There appears to be a growing intolerance between groups in the US which can lead to cruelty against children, such as not acknowledging their identities and the diverse families that children have. Sasha Sagan, author and daughter of renowned scientist Carl Sagan, emphasizes the importance of kindness, stating, ““I believe our cruelty toward one another, not sex or love of knowledge, is our original sin. It’s that for which we must really atone. In small instances as well as large ones.”
The rise of parent groups being monitored as hate groups demands our immediate attention and compassionate action. By challenging extremist ideologies, defending comprehensive education, and protecting the rights of marginalized children, we can contribute to a future that embraces diversity, fosters inclusivity, and prioritizes the well-being of all children.