Family groups rally opposition to U.N. treaty
WASHINGTON (BP) -- The U.S. Senate appears prepared to vote on a United Nations treaty that critics charge would undermine parental authority, the right to life and American sovereignty.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is expected to seek ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) in a Dec. 4 vote, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
HSLDA, which is leading the opposition, is hopeful, but uncertain, the treaty will fall short of the two-thirds majority required for ratification.
"[W]e think we can hold, but it's going to be close," said Will Estrada, a HSLDA lawyer.
Senators are under "incredible pressure," Estrada told Baptist Press Friday (Nov. 30). "So we are not taking anything for granted."
Critics of the treaty acknowledge the need to expand protections for the disabled in some countries but say the United States already has such safeguards in its Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The CRPD's protections for the disabled are already largely a part of U.S. law under the ADA, but some of its other provisions would threaten American families and self-government, they say.
Ratification would mean the treaty would become law under the U.S. Constitution, supersede state laws and be considered binding in the courts, according to HSLDA.
In a recent letter endorsed by Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land and 39 other pro-family and conservative leaders, HSLDA included the following concerns:
-- An article in the treaty making the "best interests of the child" a "primary consideration" could usurp the "traditional fundamental right of parents to direct the education and upbringing" of a special needs child.
-- A diminishing of legal protection for disabled children that could occur "will create an atmosphere discriminatory against those children and their families."
-- A 1989 New Zealand law that is considered to comply with the CRPD permits the secretary of Education to require a disabled child to attend a government-operated school if he thinks it best for the student, implying the same thing could happen in the United States.
-- Legal action against private American citizens under the treaty could take place based on a court ruling related to another U.N. convention.
-- The U.S. could surrender its sovereignty to a committee -- the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities -- established by the treaty.
"The question is, who should make critical decisions regarding the care and raising of children who have disabilities? Their parents or United Nations social workers?," HSLDA President Michael Smith said in a written release. "There is no need for the CRPD, as our nation's state and federal laws already protect our precious loved ones with disabilities."
The treaty's inclusion in one of its articles of the term "reproductive health" -- sometimes a euphemism for "abortion rights" -- has elicited concern from pro-life advocates. An amendment in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seeking to make clear "reproductive health" does not include abortion failed.
Joni and Friends -- the international disability ministry founded by Christian author Joni Eareckson Tada -- announced its opposition to the treaty Nov. 14.
Americans "can advance human dignity for persons with disabilities worldwide by, first, supporting the enforcement of the ADA here at home, and second, investing in those global initiatives which provide spiritual and practical help to improve the wellbeing of people with disabilities everywhere," Joni and Friends said in a written statement.
President Obama signed the CRPD in 2009, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved it in a 13-6 vote in July of this year. Three Republicans joined the 10 Democrats on the panel in supporting the treaty.
Sen. John Kerry, D.-Mass., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, denied the treaty would have the potential effects forecast by its foes. On the day the committee passed the convention, Kerry said the treaty would not usurp American law and would not change the law on abortion.
"I just say to you that it is inaccurate that this [convention] requires any change in U.S. law," Kerry said. He also said the committee established by the treaty has "very, very limited powers" and would not "intrude on the daily lives of Americans."
In addition to Land and Smith, other signers of the HSLDA letter included Michael Farris, HSLDA chairman; Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America; Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel; Phyllis Schlafly, president of Eagle Forum; Tom McClusky, senior vice president of Family Research Council Action, and Tom Minnery, executive director of CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family.
Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).