Photo used with permission by Alecia Pennington.
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Alecia Pennington has existed her entire life — but until today she wasn’t able to prove it.
Last September, Alecia Pennington fled her Texas family with the help of her grandparents. She began speaking up about her parents’ alleged identification abuse — how they were refusing to help her get identifying documents (such as her birth certificate) necessary for functioning in society. Alecia’s parents, James and Lisa Pennington, are group leaders for the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) and board members of the Hill Country Home School Association. In 2010, THSC awarded James and Lisa their “Leaders of the Year” award. Lisa is a popular homeschool blogger and speaker who writes for Hip Homeschool Moms and has presented at the Homeschool Moms Winter Summit.
Alecia created a video about the alleged abuse and it quickly went viral on YouTube. As of today, the video has almost one and a half million views and prompted Alecia to create the now-internationally-reported Help Me Prove It campaign, whose Facebook page has over 7,000 likes.
Her campaign solicited the legal help of attorney Bill Morris as well as legislative assistance from Texas State Representative Marsha Farney, who proposed a bill, HB 2794, to help people like Alecia who are American citizens yet lacking necessary documentation. The bill, which “allow[s] individuals to petition for a delayed birth certificate in the county where they live, rather than in the county in which they were born,” and “make[s] it a misdemeanor for a parent to refuse to sign an affidavit to help their child obtain a delayed birth certificate,” was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbot on June 19, 2015, and went into effect several days ago on September 1.
Alecia’s grandmother, Lee Southworth, who helped Alecia break free from her family, says they have put in “thousands of hours” of work thus far attempting to obtain Alecia’s birth certificate. And today, after the enactment of HB 2794, their work has finally reached a joyous ending. This morning Alecia went to Williamson County Court House and received the birth certificate she has fought so long to obtain. “So happy and excited this morning!” she exclaimed on Facebook. “Finally able to prove legal identity!” Alecia extended her sincere thanks to her lawyer William Morris and and Representative Marsha Farney: “You guys are rockstars,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough.”
While Alecia’s story ends on a well-deserved happy note, it is important to remember that there are many homeschool alumni around the United States that are in the exact same situation Alecia was in. But tragically, unlike Alecia, their stories will never go viral and their state representatives will never know their names.
While not common, identification abuse happens far more frequently than many might imagine. Identification abuse is destroying, holding hostage, or denying a child their identification documents: birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card, and so forth. Homeschool kids (and alumni) like Alecia are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse because of certain anti-government and pro-parental rights attitudes in totalistic homeschool subcultures.
According to Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement, out of 3703 respondents, 3.65% (or 135 respondents) experienced identification abuse. Personal testimonies from homeschool alumni denied identification documents can be read at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s website. HARO’s 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling also found that the problem of ID abuse disproportionately impacts individuals who identify as female, which seems to correlate with families adhering to the Christian patriarchy movement.
- When Your Very Identity Is Held Hostage: Alecia Pennington and Identification Abuse
- James and Lisa Pennington Respond to Identification Abuse Claims
- Lisa Pennington on Adult Children, Maturity, and Drivers’ Licenses
- Identity as Means of Control: Results from the 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling
- Ken Cuccinelli, HSLDA, and Identification Abuse
- Identification Abuse Bill Inspired by Alecia Pennington Passes Texas House, Goes to Senate
This is wonderful! Alecia, I’m so happy you were able to get the documents you need and move forward!
This is such wonderful news! Congratulations to Alecia, her lawyer, her grandmother and everyone else who helped her.
I hadn’t heard from Alecia for several months—I’m glad to hear this has all finally happened.
If anything, I know I learned a lot about identification in a post-fundamentalist Internet world. I’d never heard of parents declining to legally identify their children. Seems like that shouldn’t be legal simply as a matter of fact.
I think the movement to deny your child a birth certificate took the law by surprise. Until the Pennington case many of my fellow attorneys (myself included) had no idea such a thing existed or the “reasoning” purported to be behind it. It takes the law awhile to catch up, but hopefully the forward momentum will continue.
I’m very glad to hear this good news! I hope that Alecia’s extended family can continue to be supportive as she begins her adult life. It is very hard not to have the support of your parents as you enter adulthood but with the support of other family and friends, Alecia seems like a young woman with the intelligence and courage to do well in whatever path she chooses in life.
I am like and not like Alecia because my things are out there, but my mother since I moved out is holding onto my birth certificate, and SS card.
You can get new copies by visiting the Social Security office and the Vital Records office and tell them the items were lost (which they are)
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I’m curious why a parent would deny these papers to their child. Pardon my ignorance, but I’ve just never heard of this before. I’m a secular homeschool Mom, and my son’s papers are in a safe for water/fire protection, and my now teenage son has known where those keys are since he was about 10 years old when he watched me pull out his social security number prior to doing our family’s taxes, and I said, “If you ever need to get into this box, the keys are kept right here” and I showed him where. If something were to ever happen to me, or his Dad, I’d want him to be able to get into that safe.
Some reasons given by proponents of “sovereign children” are, but not limited to: the state, instead of God, will own your children if they have papers; papers are the mark of the Beast; you can’t easily hide if you are “in the system”; getting citizenship and identity is handing over a parent’s authority to the state; if they don’t have identity, no one knows they exist, and homeschooling laws will not apply.
Most reasons basically can go back to 1. ownership of the parents over the children, and 2. the ability to hide from the government. There are some more extreme religious reasons that a select few sight but they are not as common as these.