Michael Farris, chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA) and president of ParentalRights.org, has established himself as a leading figure in the Christian homeschool movement. His suspicion of the state and his emphasis on parental rights–his definition of liberty.
In my last blog post, I published documentation of homeschool parents’ reactions to revelations of abuse within the Christian homeschool movement. The themes revealed — anti-statism and a consuming, passionate belief that parents know best — reflects in micro the message Farris so effectively peddles at the national level.
These concerns make for some strange bedfellows, as a close examination of ParentalRights.org’s list of allied organizations reveals. Allies include AbleChild, an anti-psychiatry organization affiliated with the Church of Scientology, and Glenn Beck’s Black Robe Regiment. Several allies erroneously link vaccines to autism. These allies include the Canary Party, an anti-vaccination group. Given Farris’ belief that parental rights are absolute, even divinely derived, his alliance with organizations that lobby for the end of state interference in private affairs is not a surprise.
However, the other entries on this list of allies reveals a new facet to Farris’ parental rights advocacy. Nine allies lobby for fathers’ rights, either explicitly or under the guise of ‘parental alienation syndrome’ or ‘shared parenting.’ Superficially, these sound like benign causes. Nobody sane wants to deprive fathers of their rights, or alienate children from their parents. Shared parenting sounds entirely fair–and in many cases, it is. But further research reveals another, more sinister reality. The overlap between the fathers’ rights movement and men’s rights activism has been well-documented by a variety of media sources. Both are often referred to as the ‘domestic abusers’ lobby’ and with reason. The leaders of Fathers and Families, listed as one of ParentalRights’ allies, actively lobbied against the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.
According to the members of Fathers Unite, another ParentalRights ally, the judicial system systematically discriminates against men in divorce and custody proceedings. This is a common complaint of men’s rights activists. According to the Fatherhood Coalition, yet another ally, this amounts to nothing short of a war on fatherhood itself. And let’s not forget Farris’ association with Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, an organization that explicitly promotes extreme female submission and discourages the higher education of women. The enemies here are mothers, and by extension, a judicial system that supports them unconditionally.
So why would Farris ally himself with these groups? After all, he supports parental rights, and mothers are parents. The healthy families Farris promotes are, presumably, also free of domestic violence. His alliance with this movement therefore appears to be totally contradictory. But for those of us who grew in conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist families, the reason is obvious: Farris allies with these groups because the only rights he really seeks to preserve are father’s rights. His primary interest is the protection of the patriarchy. No fault divorce, the Violence Against Women Act, and current custody laws threaten paternal supremacy. Farris fights for limited government because the state’s interference in domestic affairs usurps the role his movement assigns to fathers. If Farris and allies succeed in their goal of establishing parental rights as a constitutionally recognized right, the cultural hierarchy he seeks to protect will be successfully embedded in federal law.
And let’s be clear: that is their ultimate goal. Homeschooling is merely a means unto an end.
Michael Farris’ unusual allies are further evidence that he, and the organizations he has founded, have no intention of addressing abuse within their ranks. They can’t. If they acknowledge that abuse is a problem, then the limitations of the cultural hierarchy they promote will become publicly evident and will become more difficult for them to successfully argue that it is superior to mainstream alternatives. Failures in leadership typically demand a change in leadership, and the patriarchy cannot sustain this. If homeschool parents are truly concerned for the well-being of children, it is therefore in their best interest to separate from Michael Farris, HSLDA and their allies.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has more information on the men’s rights movement.