The following is an excerpt from R.L. Stollar’s “Children as Divine Rental Property: An Exposition on HSLDA’s Philosophy of Parental Rights.” You can read the paper in full here.
Who do children belong to? This is a much-debated question. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) insists that parents have the “sole authority” to “carefully craft” their children’s lives and minds, while denying those children any rights of their own. HSLDA thus finds other answers to that question threatening: such as children belonging to themselves, the government, or the community. These other answers redistribute rights away from parents and towards non-parental units. But one particular answer — Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “it takes a village” answer — has received a disproportionate amount of attention from the organization.
HSLDA employees seem inexplicably obsessed with Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advocacy for children’s rights. The late Chris Klicka said Clinton had “declared war on parents’ rights in America”[i] because of her support of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. HSLDA founder Michael Farris made one of the villains in his fictional book Forbid Them Not a character named “Helene Rodman,” whom he describes as “the first female president of the United States” with a “perfectly plastic smile,” a “feminist agenda,” and a desire to attack “home schooling.”[ii] Farris has freely admitted that Rodman is based on Clinton.[iii] In Forbid Them Not‘s alternate universe, “Rodman” (or Clinton) takes advantage of “a landslide election, which swept a Democratic majority into both houses of Congress” and immediately signs the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Naturally, all hell breaks loose and a Farris-esque hero named Cooper Stone (a lawyer who moved from Washington State to Loudon County, Virginia,[iv] just like Farris) must swoop in and save the day.
Other HSLDA employees have also obsessed with Clinton,[v] in particular her book It Takes a Village that called for “comprehensive early education programs for disadvantaged children and their families.”[vi] The “it takes a village” concept has long been a target of conservative Christians (beyond just HSLDA) — which is odd, because the concept is nothing new nor did it begin with Clinton. The “Children belong to their community” answer to the question “To whom do children belong?” dates back millennia. It is neither Clintonian nor Marxist — nor anything else modern, for that matter. Yet conservative Christians today (including HSLDA) fixate on Clinton as the arch-nemesis of their own values who threatens to bring Big Brother into families’ living rooms and bedrooms.
The most explicit articulation of this sentiment comes from Michael Farris’s 1999 presentation before the Howard Center for Family, Religion, & Society’s World Congress of Families in Geneva, Switzerland.[vii] Farris says “it takes a village” advocates (whom Farris equivocates with child welfare workers) use terrorist-like tactics: “Those who believe that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ are willing to use coercion, threats, raw police power, and intimidation to enforce their agenda. Parents who raise children in a manner that the village doesn’t like have learned to fear the knock on the door lest they hear the dreaded words, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help raise your children.’”
Farris relates international children’s rights efforts to these terrorist-like tactics. He specifically calls out a number of children’s rights as negative, such as: (1) “the right of the child to express his/or her opinion” concerning the child’s own education; (2) the right of a child to not be physically hit by parents; and (3) the right of “children, particularly adolescents, to pursue, medical or legal counseling without parental consent”. Children should not have these rights, Farris makes clear. And if children are granted them, Farris believes the consequences will be dire: “It is up to this generation of parents to act for the generations to come to ensure that we protect the family in the black and white of our Constitution lest the global village overtake our homes.”[viii]
These three children’s rights — the right to self-determine education, the right not to be physically hit by parents, and the right to self-determine one’s medical treatment — are consistently targeted by HSLDA. In fact, nearly every statement HSLDA has made in the past (and continues to make today) against the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child — or any other declaration of children’s rights — calls out these three rights negatively. It is worthwhile, therefore, to look at each respectively:
The right to self-determine education
The right to self-determine education is, of course, a direct threat to HSLDA’s specific form of homeschooling advocacy. HSLDA holds back little on this count: Klicka was forthright about the fact that, if children had rights, then they could say no to homeschooling — which Klicka would not tolerate. “If children have rights,” he said, “they could refuse to be home-schooled.”[ix] Thus to protect the ideal of homeschooling, Klicka denounced giving children rights. In fact, in a later article written on behalf of HSLDA by both him and former HSLDA attorney Doug Phillips, to “give children fundamental rights enforceable against their parents” was explicitly said to be a “threat.”[x] As Klicka and Phillips later define “fundamental rights” as rights such as “speech, press, religion,” one can deduce that HSLDA does not believe children should have rights to speech and religion enforceable against their parents. Indeed, the Washington Post has noted that two reasons HSLDA opposes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are “the group fears that ratifying the treaty would mean children could choose their own religion” and “a child’s ‘right to be heard’ could trigger a governmental review of any decision a parent made that a child didn’t like.”[xi]
Klicka made this explicit in The Right Choice: Home Schooling. He explained that rights such as “freedom of expression,” “freedom of religion,” “freedom of association,” and “right to privacy” “would virtually undermine parents’ rights as we know it in the United States. Parents no longer would have the basic right to control [their children],” in particular “what church they attend.” Giving “children the fundamental rights of freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of religion,” and so forth is thus “in direct opposition to of [sic] those parents’ rights.”[xii]
The right to not be physically hit by parents
The right to not be physically hit by parents is a direct threat to HSLDA’s advocacy of corporal punishment. The aforementioned quote by Chris Klicka continues as follows: “If children have rights, they could refuse to be home-schooled, plus it takes away parents’ rights to physically discipline their children.”[xiii] Klicka and HSLDA not only defend the right of parents to physically hit children, they actively fight to expand that right to include foster parents physically punishing foster children: “[Klicka] had a similar explanation for [HSLDA’s] opposition to increased federal child abuse laws — more laws would mean more likelihood that corporal punishment could be defined as child abuse…Administrators from Patrick Henry College were among those testifying before the Virginia Department of Social Services for a measure that would allow foster parents to physically discipline foster children.”[xiv]
It is important to highlight that HSLDA does not simply defend the right of parents (natural or foster) to physically hit children. Rather, HSLDA explicitly promotes parents doing so. Michael Farris has declared that, “I am a firm believer in—dare I say it?—spanking. When the children are little I will spank either gender for deliberate disobedience of a rule that they have been taught.” Farris describes a father who will not use corporal punishment on his daughter as a “pushover” who “loves his daughter in principle, but…hates her in practice.”[xv]
In Klicka’s book The Right Choice: Homeschooling, Gregg Harris contributes a guest chapter (“How Should We Then Teach? Walking In Light Of God’s Principles Of Education”) where he instructs parents that, “Spanking is one divinely mandated method which must not be ignored,” and that if parents do not spank, their children “could become another statistic in the war on drug abuse, AIDs, and drunk driving.” Parents who do not use corporal punishment are “disobey[ing] God by discarding a clearly biblical method of child discipline.”[xvi]
The right to self-determine one’s medical treatment
The right to self-determine one’s medical treatment is a direct threat to HSLDA’s defense of parents’ religious freedom — contextually defined as the right of parents to withhold medical treatment from their children if their religion thus dictates. Religious freedom forms the cornerstone of HSLDA’s objection to mandatory vaccinations, for example. Chris Klicka has declared that, “Immunizations should not be mandated for all children [because] many parents have strong religious convictions against vaccinating their children.”[xvii] Klicka defends medical religious exemptions because, “Religious exemption statutes simply codify the protections of an individual’s right to freely exercise their religious belief as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and parallel portions of the state constitutions.” However, Klicka never explains how an individual’s right to religious expression implies a right to impose that expression on another individual — i.e., a child’s medical treatment.
Similarly, HSLDA’s current senior counsel Dee Black has expressed support for parents exempting their children from not only immunizations but other health care as well. HSLDA offers support to homeschooling parents who “claim a religious exemption from immunizations,” Black says, “and health and medical services.”[xviii] Farris believes this is appropriate because, even when it comes to complicated medical procedures of which parents have zero education or expertise, “God has delegated these kinds of decisions to parents, not to doctors, social workers, or courts.”[xix]
Since “the village” — the concept of community taken for granted by many cultures and societies throughout history — could potentially lead the recognition of one or more of these 3 rights, it takes on a purely nightmarish quality to Farris and HSLDA. This nightmare drives them to shrink the circle of necessary and desirable socialization to the nuclear family — as we see, for example, in a statement by HSLDA’s Will Estrada that, “It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes parents.”[xx]
But note: while mass mobilization on a national or international scale via government-funded programs (such as public schools, day care, health care, etc.) to recreate the “village” atmosphere lost due to the last few centuries of industrialization is indeed a relatively novel idea, so too is the idea that a nuclear family can adequately carry all the responsibilities previously carried by the “village.”[xxi] (This is why John Holt once argued that, “The family we talk so much about preserving is a modern invention.”[xxii]) While HSLDA does not hesitate to point out the former, they never provide any justification or rationale for the latter. Whether this is due to historical ignorance or intentional omission is unclear. What is clear is that they believe, contrary to actual facts, that the 20th century, American, heterosexual two-parent nuclear family concept is the historical norm.
Click here to read the rest of “Children as Divine Rental Property: An Exposition on HSLDA’s Philosophy of Parental Rights.”
[i] Chris Klicka, The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Noble Publishing Associations, 4th printing and revised edition, 1995, p. 243.
[ii] Michael Farris, Forbid Them Not, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002, p. 398-400, 448.
[iii] Michael Farris, “Parental Rights: Why Now is the Time to Act,” Court Report, Marcy/April 2006, link, accessed on December 3, 2015: “In 2002, I published a novel, Forbid Them Not (Broadman & Holman), with the premise that a thinly-disguised Hillary Clinton had been elected president. The first act of her new administration was to secure the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). I do not claim the gift of prophecy, but there is a looming possibility that I may be proven right.”
[iv] Farris, Forbid Them Not, p. 27-8.
[v] Examples of HSLDA’s singling out of Hillary Clinton include: (i) Michael Farris, “Appeals court rejects coerced entry to home,” Washington Post editorial, September 7, 1999, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Michael Farris begins generalizing about the “it takes a village” people: “We have heard from the ‘it-takes-a-village people’ that the government’s need [sic] to protect children from abuse.” (ii) HSLDA’s autobiographical series, “1983-1998: Marking the Milestones — A Review of History: Hardwon Freedoms,” describes Clinton’s “village” concept in its “International Threats” section: “So-called child advocacy groups, such as Children’s Defense Fund—part of the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ establishment—have begun to use international bodies, like the United Nations, to gain more control over the world’s families.” See link, accessed on December 3, 2015. (iii) HSLDA, “Pray for Parental Rights,” January 5, 2005, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. HSLDA declared it is “increasingly concerned about the erosion of parental rights, especially when religious parents want to do something that offends modern secular sensibilities. There is a profound tension between the rights and responsibilities of parents, on the one hand, and the increasingly popular ‘It Takes a Village’ mentality on the other.” (iv) Michael Farris, Home School Heartbeat, “Parental Rights, Part 1 — Lessons from History,” Volume 67, Program 1, April 24, 2006, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Farris says, “There are three direct threats to parental rights,” one of which is, “There’s a rising number of anti-parent politicians who believe, like Hillary Clinton, that ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child.” (v) Michael Farris, “New World Playpen,” American Conservative, October 1, 2009, link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Farris describes “a coalition seeking ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child” as “the faithful, who subscribe to the notion that ‘It Takes an (International) Village to Raise a Child.’” (vi) Will Estrada, HSLDA, “Whose children are they? UPDATE: HSLDA’s Will Estrada counters Melissa Harris-Perry on The Daily Caller,” link, accessed on December 3, 2015. Will Estrada, HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations, criticizes MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry by way of criticizing Clinton: “It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes parents…This leftist ridiculous idea that children somehow belong to the state—I thought we defeated this back with socialism, back with fascism.” (vii) One of Will Estrada’s speech presentations takes direct aim at Clinton: “The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—It Takes a Village to Raise Your Child.” See link, accessed on December 3, 2015. These are but a few of many possible examples, all of which indicate HSLDA is particularly bothered and/or threatened by not only the “village” concept in itself, but perhaps more importantly by Hillary Clinton’s specific articulation of it.
[vi] Katherine Paterson, “First, Families,” New York Times, February 11, 1996, link, accessed on December 12, 2014.
[vii] Michael Farris, “Remarks to The World Congress of Families II,” presented at the 1999 World Congress of Families, The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.
[ix] Chris Klicka, as quoted by Helen Cordes, “Battling for the heart and soul of home-schoolers,” Salon, October 2, 2000, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.
[x] Christopher J. Klicka and Douglas W. Phillips, “Why Parental Rights Laws Are Necessary,” Educational Leadership, November 1997, Volume 55, Number 3, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.
[xi] Karen Attiah, “Why won’t the U.S. ratify the U.N.’s child rights treaty?”, Washington Post, November 21, 2014, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.
[xii] Klicka, The Right Choice, 1995, p. 247, 249, 253.
[xiii] Klicka, as quoted by Helen Cordes, 2014.
[xv] Michael Farris, How A Man Prepares His Daughters For Life, Bethany House Publishers, 1996, p. 30-1.
[xvi] Gregg Harris in Klicka, The Right Choice, 1995, p. 188, 190.
[xvii] Christopher Klicka, “Immunizations: A Parent’s Choice,” HSLDA, September 13, 2007, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.
[xviii] Dee Black, “Homeschool Affidavits: Health and Medical Services/Immunization Requirements,” HSLDA, January 6, 2014, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.
[xix] Michael Farris, “Who Makes the Really Tough Decisions: Parents? Or Doctors?”, HSLDA, November 29, 2011, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.
[xx] Will Estrada as quoted by The Daily Caller, “Homeschool advocate obliterates MSNBC host over ‘collective’ view of children,” April 14, 2013, link, accessed on December 12, 2014.
[xxi] In fact, there is growing evidence that this will only further strain the health of nuclear families. For example, see Emelie A. Olson, “Socioeconomic and Psycho-Cultural Contexts of Child Abuse and Neglect in Turkey,” Child Abuse and Neglect: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Jill E. Korbin, published by University of California Press, 1981, p. 96: “[There is] another result of the increased [modernization in Turkey]: children are valued more for ‘primary group ties, affection, and love’ and less for security in old age and utilitarian values. Ironically, as children become relatively more important as sources of love, support, and companionship to parents cut off from their family and neighborhood networks, it is possible that the parents’ unmet emotional needs may lead to increasingly high expectations and unrealistic demands on their small children and thus to more classic child abuse.”
[xxii] John Holt, Escape from Childhood, published by Holt Associates, 1996.
Thank you Ryan for unpacking those harmful beliefs.
I think rather than saying, ‘but my parents spanked me and I turned out okay’, instead both my generation and above should say, ‘previous generations may not have known better than to spank, but now that we know better we can do better’. Spanking is not only obsolete, but harmful. We don’t need it, it hurts kids, it hurts child-parent relationships, parents will use it in anger and deny that it was in anger and this has the potential to escalate to confirmed physical abuse of the child, it teaches children to hit those weaker than them etc.
Yes, I once planned to spank my children. But now I know better I can do better.
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It frustrates me that HSLDA seems to be the go-to organization advocating for the right to homeschool when they also stand against some very helpful regulations and stand for ideas that are overtly harmful like those of the anti-vaccination movement.
Wow, it seems so weird to me that they completely oppose children having a say in their own education. To me that seems like one of the main reasons I would consider homeschooling so me kids have time to study what they want too.
I’m Australian and as a teacher, know Australia has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but searched on the internet to find out when. We ratified it in 1990 and every other country in the world has also now ratified it except the United States and Somalia.
Therefore there is plenty of evidence that HSLDA’s nightmare visions will not come true. Given the amount of human rights abuses that still go on around the world, it’s fairly obvious that signing the CRC will not stop child abuse, but at least is a step in the right direction. In Australia parents can still use corporal punishment on children, so long as it does not cause bruises or other long term injuries. It is not illegal and even supported by some politicians. Home schooling is legal and parents can refuse vaccinations for children, although unvaccinated children may not be allowed to attend some childcare services etc. Worse, currently we have quite a number of refugee children locked up in offshore detention centres due to their parents seeking trying to seek asylum in Australia, but taking boats here or overstaying visas which is considered ‘illegal’ in Australia, but not under International Law. This despite Australia having signed the CRC – the UN can protest, as can myself and many other Australians, but we cannot force the government to change their policies.
So even if the US ratifies the CRC it will probably not have the major impact HSLDA claims on ‘parental’ rights.
I agree with Heather, that even if the CRC was instituted in USA it would not change the way children are treated in families that practice extremes, particularly religious extremes. The law of the land might say hitting kids is illegal but these parents need to hit their kids and will not stop because of the law of the land. They will tell themselves that they are obeying a higher power than the law of the land, that of God. They are of course wrong in this but this is the Get Out of Jail Free card, played by Christians to continue their personal denial of harm done, both to themselves through violence and then to their kids enduring the same violence. We know better now and science is steadily confirming the damage done by physical and mental harm in corporal punishment and other forms of abuse on children. We KNOW better but we cannot FEEL better and so we continue to harm.
When Christian patriarchal lies are uncovered finally and women and children become less disdained, then we have been able to feel the truth of violence and to know that the science was always less wrong than we were as parents who hurt children. Religion has utterly failed in representing and protecting innocence. The harm continuously done to children is one reason I put Christianity out with the garbage many years ago. My Christian connections said I should not toss the religion, just the bad practices in it but they are one and the same tool. People of faith harm their children because of their own damaged lives, just as those who lack faith do.
If religion had a clue, it would stand for the children first but it does not. And God called called down and said tie the little viper to a rock and sacrifice him, and daddy did it. God watched till the closing act and then said No no I was just kidding to see what an asshole you are and you are… well done, thou good and faithful servant. Now undo the ropes and let the poor little fella free so he can remember his daddy at his very very best, listening to voices from the sky and almost murdering him.
Only deep and lasting harm could cause a father to play in that theatre piece, to do that kind of harm to a child.
Religion supports abuse. My offering goes to help kids in this life, not to help some church perpetuate the harm of the ages…. I support free education chosen by kids and so I support the idea of homeschooling, unschooling, whatever. I support choice: First, do no harm. Second, let the child lead.
Ryan, your research continues to add valuable knowledge to the legacy of abuse we still see so strongly advocated in patriarchal belief systems. Thank-you.
Speaking as someone who’s read a LOT of bad fanfic and knows the symptoms, shouldn’t that “Farris-esque hero” be “Author Self-Insert”?