In least equal value with parental rights. Next,

In today’s society, it is generally undisputed that children
have a right to future autonomy. With religion playing a large role in many
lives whilst also trying to maintain a sense of autonomy, many could argue that
parents do have the right to enrol their children into religious practices.

This is providing that the child’s freedom and individuality is upheld.

However, I do not believe that such a view would work practically as much as it
does in theory, which I’ll aim to discuss in this essay. In order to answer
this question, I shall further explore and argue three premises. First, I will
look at why the importance of a child’s right to future autonomy should be of
at least equal value with parental rights. Next, I shall look at the risk of
losing this future autonomy when religion is involved. Thirdly, I’ll discuss
the idea of retrospective consent and how acceptance into religious practices
goes against this.


Before answering the question, when discussing the rights of
a parent as well as a child, the term ‘autonomy’ arises and is made some
reference to. An autonomous person is one who ‘is in control of her choices,
her actions and her will’ (Oshana, 1998, pg. 4).  Conversely, as the term can be interpreted
quite weakly, personal autonomy can be seen as a more focused view on being in
control as we are saying that one has the power to determine how they want to
live (Oshana, 1998, pg. 4). This autonomy however is not seen as important when
it comes to child rearing and the rights of a child. The consensus is that
children are not yet cognitively developed and so their autonomy can’t be seen
as very important. It is only when a child over time develops into a fully
functioning autonomous being that their independence matters. This is what I
will refer to as a child’s ‘future autonomy’; whose right I believe is of the
same importance than a parent, which I aim to argue below.


For the most part, scholars and notable arguments on parental
rights and religious practice accept that the idea of adolescents having the
right to future autonomy is a limitation to their notion, regardless of whether
it is considered centrally or partly against their beliefs. For example,
Brighouse and Swift (2006) see future autonomy of an adolescent as a partial
constraint and argue that parents have the right to a close connection with
their child and can share their beliefs in any way they please, including
through enrolment into a religious practice. Other arguments such as Joel
Feinberg’s famous view on a child’s right to an ‘open future’ see future
autonomy as a main constraint to parental rights and religious practice,
arguing that children have ‘anticipatory rights’ which should be protected
(Feinberg, 2007, pg. 120). The two arguments displayed here are ones of many
that show future autonomy principally taken into consideration.


As shown above, differing views place the future autonomy
right of a child at different levels of importance when compared to parental
rights. However, in my view, the child’s right should have the upmost
importance because I see their future autonomy as precious as the autonomy of
an adult. This is due to the high levels of potential a child’s future autonomy
has in terms of freedom and individuality so I do not see why it shouldn’t be
treated of the same value as autonomy for an adult. For many notable scholars,
autonomy of an adult is of large significance. John Mill argues it is something
of intrinsic value as it is ‘one of the elements of well-being’ (1859/1975, ch.3).

If one was to commit a mistake even against the advice given, it is better to
do this for Mill than to be influenced and limited by others and their opinions
(1859, ch.4). If we were to accept Mill’s argument here then it is also
plausible to say that constraint on a child’s future autonomy by others is also
wrong. There is no clear reason as to why both types of autonomy should be
viewed differently in terms of importance because a constraint in either leads
to the same result; a violation of their basic right. Linking this back to the
question, it means that parents do not have the right to enrol their child into
religious practices as their future autonomy is of the same crucial importance
as an adults, hence it should not be disregarded and limited to certain beliefs
put upon them by their parents. William Galston also shared this view and said
that ‘every child has a prospective interest in personal sovereignty…that
parents cannot rightly undermine’ (2002, pg. 105) and so children should not be
enrolled onto religion against their own choice and freedom.


Having touched upon Brighouse and Swift’s (2006) view on
children’s autonomy and religious practices earlier, their argument can be seen
as a counter to the reasons given above. 
Due to their belief in parents having the right to a close bond with
their child, they argue this should be of more importance than focusing and
protecting the child’s right to future autonomy. Whilst I see the significance
of one being close with their offspring, I do not think this aim should mean
that a parent should do whatever is necessary to achieve this and risk
compromising their child’s sovereignty. Parents have a legal right and responsibility
that they must fulfil in the form of most notably: care and financial support.

If this is the case then it means a child’s interests should be put ahead of
the parents and therefore their future autonomy should be taken into
consideration too. This overall means that a parent does not have the right to
enrol their child into a religious practice as they should be looking to put
their interests first with the main one being to protect their right to future


Having discussed why the child’s right to future autonomy
should be deliberated of the same importance as a parent, the next point I aim
to argue is the limitation of the mind and body religious enrolment entails for
a child. I will validate this claim by arguing that there are too many views
that exist in the world for a child to be only focussed and enrolled into just
one religious practice. Some also believe that the mind, body and future
autonomy of a child can be protected whilst enrolling them into religion.

However, I believe this is a view that would not work in practice and hence
will explore the impressionability and the reliance children have on their
parents. This will be in terms of opinion and interest that shape their


The claim that the mind and body of a child is repressed
when enrolled into a specific religion is one that I subscribe to. This is
because it would normally involve the child being at a distance with reality in
terms of not being exposed to other values, interests and beliefs that the
world has to offer. James Dwyer (1998) in his book ‘Religious Schools v.

Children Rights’ argued that religious schooling needs to be regulated as both
‘Fundamentalist and Catholic diocesan schools, to varying
degrees, infringe the personal liberties of students, fail to develop in
students important cognitive skills and/or to provide them with an inadequate
knowledge base’ (pg. 44). Putting this constraint on a child would limit their
awareness and understanding of other cultures and opinions and could lead to
them not being able to pursue goals outside their parents thinking and way of
life at the start of their adulthood. This view is too echoed by Feinberg who
believes in a child’s ‘right to an open future.’ He argues that the future
achievement of children (accomplishments they will realise as adults) requires
parents to not up bring their child in certain ways during childhood in order
for them to maximise their potential in terms of knowledge and cognitive
development (Bou-Habib, 2015). This is called the achievement argument, which
further strengthens my view on the repressiveness of the mind and body of a
child if they were to be enrolled into a religious practice and so overall I do
not think parents have the right to put this sort of constraint onto their


Whilst still on the idea of future
achievement and the ways of up rearing a child; when done in a particular way
it can ensure that the adolescent enjoys a capacity for autonomy when they are
an adult. This can be used as evidence for the state to justify their
intervention into communities that constrain children to a certain way of life (Bou-Habib,
2015). The Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972) case can be used as an example whereby
Amish parents asked the Supreme Court to finish their children’s schooling age
at fourteen rather than sixteen. This in my view is a form of deprivation of
education with Amish parents not allowing their children to be exposed to a
range of ways of life. They will miss out on opportunities that other children
would have had access to and hence can be seen as having a negative knock off
consequences into other areas of life which should not be the case.

Byron White, a former associate justice
of the Supreme Court, also advocated this view and stated that:


is possible that most Amish children will wish to continue living the rural
life of their parents…Others, however, may wish to become nuclear physicists,
ballet dancers, computer programmers, or historians, and for these occupations,
formal training will be necessary…A state has a legitimate interest…in seeking
to prepare them for the life style that they may later choose, or at least to
provide them with an option other than the life they have led in the past.


After reading White’s statement and exploring the case, it
further strengthened my view on parents not having the right to enrol their
children into a religious practice as it limits their future autonomy, opportunities
and their potential to do what they seek to in the future.


Having earlier touched upon the argument that parents have
the right to enrol their child into religion, providing their future autonomy
is preserved. I do not believe that this view would be successful to carry out
in practice due to religion always certainly being a risk to ones future
autonomy. This is because children are impressionable. They will undoubtedly
rely on their parent’s opinions and beliefs in order to shape their own
preferences. Brighouse and Swift (2006, pg. 93) argued that children love their
parents ‘outside (of their) rational control’ and so they will try to imitate what
their parents do. This too can be applied to religion as children will learn
the religious acts and views showed to them and hence will attempt to emulate
their parents. Overall it depicts that a child is prone to preference shaping
influences, which will limit their future autonomy.


The interests that one tried to emulate from their parents
as a child can potentially be kept with them until adulthood. This is due to
the fact that they were never brought up in a certain way to be fully
autonomous and so every decision they make as an adult is due to the
preferences and influences they picked up on as a child. Their autonomy has
always been limited and with the lessons they learnt as an adolescent, it will
subconsciously affect the choices they make. Feinberg (1992) uses the term
‘self determination circle’ to explain this idea as he believes that the
preferences you take on board as a child can go from being externally
determined to becoming part of you and your thinking (pg. 94). This is limiting
not only ones future autonomy as an adolescent, but also affecting it as an
adult. When applying this to religion, the practices that were learnt as a
child will certainly be of influence in the choices made during adulthood and
so with this constraint of the mind present, I do not think parents have the
right to enrol their child into a religious practice.


Having just discussed the religious preferences that stay
with a child until adulthood, the situation becomes complicated when one
reviews their upbringing and decides to leave their religion. As we try to
focus on living autonomous lives, the consequences of our upbringing create
costs that are unavoidable and this rearing is something that is reviewed upon
in adulthood. Emotional costs and cultural costs are ones that come to mind if
one was to go against the religious principles they learn as a child. For
example, if a parent were to take their child and go to Church to learn about
Christianity, the child would find it hard to abandon the religion later in life
(Clayton, 2012, pg. 363).  This is due to
already developing some sort of attachment to the belief as an adolescent and
hence can feel a sense of losing their identity and guilt if they were to leave
the lessons they have learnt and overall would most likely remain in the
religious culture. In total, this depicts to me that parents do not have the
right to enrol their child into religious practices as it creates a loss of autonomy
as well as unavoidable costs for the child in their future which one should not
have to go through.


The next point I would like to discuss is the retrospective
consent that one possesses throughout their lifetime. ‘She can affirm or
denounce the treatment she received as a child’ is the definition given by
Clayton (2012, pg. 355) whereby one will hold an informed view on the way they
were raised. If they were to realise that they were enrolled into a religious
practice under the heavy influence of their parents and have now changed their
view on this subject in adulthood, then it can be possible to argue that this
was a violation of their autonomy as a child and they did not entirely give
consent to their parents to be raised with religion. Clayton (2012 pg. 3) also
objects religious enrolment because ‘children should be treated in accordance
with norms that will command their retrospective consent’ and so if they were
not brought up in a certain way, free of judgement, which is very much likely,
then parents do not have the right to enrol their child into a religious


Whilst still on this topic, access to information on
religion and other various interests is easily accessible in today’s society.

If a child is enrolled into a religious practice by their parents and have then
done their own research into what they have learnt and the other beliefs in the
world. As they grow up, there is a likely chance that they will retrospectively
reject the religious activities they took part in through adolescence,
therefore making the enrolment into a religion illegitimate. Rawls demonstrated
this idea by exploring his view on ‘the burdens of judgement.’ This is a
society that is free and protects people’s rights to expression and conscience
hence allowing individuals to believe in any view they please. With this access
to information there is no possible way of predicting what religious belief one
may pursue as an adult and hence it is also plausible to say that enrolling a
child into a practice will elicit their retrospective consent (1996 pg.56) and
overall make religious enrolment illicit.