At what age does an individual gain the right to associate freely? For example, could parents bar contact with volunteers from a LBGTQ group to a child if the parents were (by ideal/simplified hypothetical case) in no way harming the child?

I think this could apply to religious groups as well, but looking through the family law of a few states, it might also represent a special case. Could parents bar their child from associating with religious groups (or a-religious) they oppose?

Is there a responsibility of any such group to get parental consent?

Going back to the two examples: Let's say an LGBTQ group was having a non-privileged support group meeting (no professional or licensed therapists present) and a local mosque was having a youth prayer meeting. Would ether group be required or in someway at risk for failure to check whether minor X, whose parents informed the group they do not want their child in attendance, was present?

Does the risk change if the group is doing outreach at a public school (assume religious group using their access correctly by not obstructing or using resources)?

I assume this gets into the weeds of family law which can vary widely in different states. If there were some archetype examples, I would appreciate it.

1 Answer 1


The constitutional protection afforded people in the United States for freedom of association is protection from interference by the government and its agents.

Until the age of majority, or emancipation by a court of law, parents enjoy broad discretion over the activities of their children including with whom they can associate.

Complexities do arise for children of divorced parents who disagree as to who can set the characteristics of how the children are raised. In these cases family court intervention is used to deem what's in the best interest of the child.

Complexities can also arise for children facing medical treatment. The most common example would be a parent attempting to refuse specific care for their child. In these cases it's possible to get a court to deem the parents "unfit" in order to force the medical treatment to go forward. This is usually a high-bar to achieve as the courts don't want to interfere in the parent-child relationship unless there is no other choice. Such medical treatment can also apply to mental-health services.

New York, as an example,

allows the local commissioner of social services or local commissioner of health to give consent for medical, dental, health and hospital services for any child found by the family court to be an abused, neglected or destitute child.

Oklahoma created the Parent's Bill of Rights (same link as above) which:

prohibited the state from infringing upon parental rights, directed the board of education of a school district to develop a policy listing parental rights related to education, including sex education; prohibited a surgical procedure on a minor without parental consent—excluding abortion— and, prohibited a mental health evaluation of a minor without parental consent.

You will find that it will take court intervention to interfere with parental discretion and that court intervention will likely need to find the parents unfit to make the decision. Assuming the advocacy groups you outline in your question are not providing medical care it is extremely unlikely that a court will interfere.

The right of association is not implicated in your question because it is not the government preventing the child from participating.

  • 1
    Thanks, that cleared things up a lot. I was wondering if you could address the question of the groups responsibility (or perhaps I should split it into a separate question). Say the LGBTQ group meetings don't take attendance (most groups of any kind don't), would they be responsible to assure a minor didn't attend a "public" event? I suppose the same could be asked of any religious service. The specific event in question takes place on a high school campus, and I think afford some protection by the Equal Access Act.
    – Atl LED
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 16:53
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    I do think that would make a separate, good question ignoring the type of group. For example, is any group required to get parental permission to permit attendance by a minor? It is unlikely that statutes would base any required permission on the content of the group's speech as that would not be a content-neutral regulation. On the other hand, if the group is seen as providing a counseling service then all kinds of licensing and consent questions come into play.
    – Dave D
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 17:03
  • 1
    Done: law.stackexchange.com/questions/7396/…
    – Atl LED
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 18:05

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