HSLDA’s Will Estrada Endorses Ted Cruz

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

In a public Facebook status today, HSLDA Director of Federal Relations Will Estrada declared his endorsement of Senator Ted Cruz for President.

“I am proud to endorse Ted Cruz for President,” Estrada says, “and to be named one of the national co-chairs of the ‘Homeschoolers for Cruz’ coalition.” The coalition, announced today on Cruz’s website, boasts “an astounding 6,670 members.” You can watch Cruz’s video announcement of the coalition below:

According to Cruz’s website, “The group represents homeschool communities across the country who are dissatisfied with their local school districts, the recent implementation of Common Core, or just wish to be more involved in their children’s upbringing.” The coalition is co-chaired by Estrada, Quiverfull advocate Marlin Bontrager, and former Mike Huckabee campaigner Vicki Crawford. Last year Crawford arranged to have Cruz speak at the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators’ (NICHE) Homeschool Day at the Capitol on March 18, saying, “He’s the perfect match for us [homeschoolers].”

Estrada’s endorsement of Cruz comes at a curious time, considering the efforts HSLDA has made over the last couple years to distance itself from the Christian male supremacy movement known as “Christian Patriarchy.” Marlin Bontrager, who co-chairs the coalition with Estrada, is a long-time supporter of the now-disgraced Christian Patriarchy advocate Doug Phillips and his organization Vision Forum. Bontrager has his family in ATI, both performing as well as participating in the Children’s Institute, ALERT Academy, and other ATI institutions. Bontrager endorses Above Rubies, the Duggar family, and Michael and Debi Pearl.

Marlin Bontrager, co-chair of the “Homeschoolers for Cruz” Coalition with Will Estrada, poses with his two daughters next to Doug Phillips and his daughters at a Vision Forum event. Photo via the Bontrager Family Singers website.

Last year Ted Cruz was a featured speaker at both the National Religious Liberties Conference, organized by outspoken Christian Patriarchy advocate Kevin Swanson, as well as Bob Jones University, a heavily patriarchal school recently rocked by major sexual abuse allegations. Last November Cruz also was excited and proud to receive the endorsement of Flip Benham, who has long been a supporter of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, also a heavily patriarchal (and legalistic) organization founded by the now-disgraced Bill Gothard. Gothard faces sexual harassment accusations from 30 women, 5 of whom are suing IBLP.

According to Cruz’s website, 82 other individuals have been selected to be “leaders” in the Cruz/homeschool coalition. These individuals are:

Leslie Beck
Joshua Bontrager
Carson Bontrager
Mitchell Bongtrager
Allison Bontrager
Chelsy Bontrager
Becky Bontrager
Joseph Brown
Gary Bryan
Kim Bryan
Caleb Burke
Gary Buske
Jason Conner
Mary Cory
Thomas Cory
Jacob Cowman
Samantha Cowman
Dale Crawford
Jeanette Davis
Nate Day
Amy Deace
Steve Deace
Mark Deford
Joe Desaulniers
Sadie Desaulniers
John Desaulniers
Wes Desaulniers
Allison Desaulniers
Tina Dicks
Bethany Dorin
Mary Dorin
Tyler Dorin
Benjamin Dorin
Bryan English
Amy English
Allan Frandson
Amanda Friedl
Bethany Gates
Kristi German
Tom German
Will Ghormley
Judy Goodman
Rob Goodman
Dennis Guth
Mike Habermann
Greg Heartsill
Adam Horning
Brian Kelly
Jan Kendall
Spencer Keroff
Joel Kurtinitis
Kelsey Kurtiitis
Byron Linden
Tim Lubinus
Preston Martens
Kaylee Morris
Marie Morris
Josie Morris
Heather Nandell
George Nelson
Vance Nordaker
Michelle Ober
Rhonda Paine
Kristine Pfab
Ron Richardson
James Snow
Deanna Snow
Jeff Stillwell
Joseph Stillwell
Josiah Stillwell
Kim Stillwell
Kevin Subra
Judith Trumpy
James Unger
Adam Vandall
Tasha Vos
Erin Watkins
Daniel Watkins
Sue West
Darran Whiting
Debi Zahn
Karice Zahn

In other news, Ted Cruz’s super-PAC is being led by David Barton, a controversial historian also popular among conservative Christian homeschoolers.

Archives of above links: Estrada’s endorsement of Cruz | “Homeschoolers for Cruz” Coalition announcement | Bontrager’s “Recommended Resources”

The Uncomfortable Origin of HSLDA’s “Parental Rights”

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.

HSLDA’s concept of children as divine rental property forms the basis for HSLDA’s understanding of parental rights as expressed through common law. HSLDA attempts to ground many of its arguments for religious liberty and homeschooling on a Western concept of common law, especially as expressed by English jurist William Blackstone in his work, Commentaries on the Laws of England. In The Right Choice: Home Schooling, the late Chris Klicka wrote, “One of the most influential common law sources on which the founders of our country relied was Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries. Blackstone recognized that the most important duty of parents to their children is that of giving them an education.”[i]

Blackstone’s advocacy of parental rights, Klicka argued, became the cornerstone of an Oklahoma Supreme Court Case that Klicka considered key: “Building on this traditional liberty of parents as enunciated by Blackstone, the Oklahoma Supreme Court in School Board Dist. No. 18 v. Thompson secured the right of parents to control the education of their children.”[ii] This was key to Klicka because he and HSLDA desired to return to a previous era where “parental liberty historically was held to be virtually absolute,”[iii] and the Thompson case argued that, “In this empire [the United States], parents rule supreme during the minority of their children”[iv] [emphasis added by Klicka].

Because Klicka considered this court case to be of such significance, it is worth reviewing what aspects of the case Klicka neglected to mention. It is true that in 1909 the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in School Board Dist. No. 18 v. Thompson that, “In this empire parents rule supreme during the minority of their children.” However, the Thompson case also situates this parental supremacy in only one figure: the family patriarch. The case declared that, “The father was vested with supreme control over the child.” In terms of legal rights, “A mother, as such, is entitled to no power.”[v]

What the Thompson case declared — that the family patriarch has supreme power over his children (and the mother or wife has no legal power whatsoever) — is exactly what one should expect to find in traditional Western common law. Traditional Western common law is specifically grounded in the property-rights paradigm descended from classical Roman patriarchy. It goes back to the Roman legal concept of patria potestas (Latin for “power of the father”). Patria potestas meant that the male head of a household, otherwise known as the pater familias (father of the family), “not only…had control over the persons of his children, amounting even to a right to inflict capital punishment, but that he alone had any rights in private law.”[vi] The pater familias’s power went beyond his children: “The pater familias could do as he pleased with his family members: from dictating the conditions of marriage and divorce to disposing of his wife, children, and slaves through adoption, sale, or death.”[vii]

Under such a paradigm, rights are distributed according to property. Since adult Roman men (the family patriarchs) were the only ones allowed to have property, they were also the only ones allowed to have legal rights. Children, women, and slaves had no legal rights. They were all considered property under traditional Western common law — even to the point that they could be bought and sold: “In early law the paterfamilias could sell children into slavery… [The paterfamilias] had available to him the standard proprietary remedies of an owner. Thus, if a child was kidnapped, it was regard as ‘stolen’ which enabled the paterfamilias to recover it through a vindicatio and to sue for damages under the action for theft.”[viii] Similarly, “in controlling his wife, a man was simply exercising control over his own person or property.”[ix]

This is the tradition to which Klicka appealed and to which HSLDA continues to appeal.[x]

A primary reason for such appeals is that the United States Constitution does not explicitly mention the rights of parents. Thus HSLDA appeals to the tradition of common law to deduce the rights of parents from “the laws of nature” found in Western Civilization, in other words, property rights. Chris Klicka and fellow former HSLDA attorney Doug Phillips made this very argument in a 1997 article for Educational Leadership. In their section “Roots in Common Law,” Klicka and Phillips say, “The United States Constitution does not explicitly mention parental rights. Like other legal principles at the time of the nation’s founding, the right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children was an implicit and necessary assumption of society. That parents had a God-given duty as well as right to make all decisions with respect to the future of their unemancipated children was part of the higher law that the Declaration of Independence termed ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God.’” They say these “laws of nature and of nature’s God” were enshrined in Western common law: “For more than a thousand years, the doctrine of parental rights had been a bedrock principle of the Western legal tradition, expressed throughout the ‘common law.’”[xi]

HSLDA founder Michael Farris explicitly ties this concept of Western common law to HSLDA’s advocacy of conservative Christianity and his organization’s understanding of what conservative Christianity teaches about parental rights. Farris says, “Our nation was founded upon the traditions of Western Civilization. This civilization was founded on the principles of the Word of God. God gives children to parents—not to the state, and not to doctors.”[xii]

To Farris and HSLDA, therefore, any threat to traditional Western common law or Western civilization could be perceived as a threat to homeschooling. One sees this fear directly in the rationale HSLDA has given for making opposition to same-sex marriage part of its homeschool advocacy. On their (now-removed) web page entitled “Why HSLDA is Fighting Against Same-Sex Marriage,” HSLDA states that, “Parental rights are a recognized constitutional right despite the fact that they are not explicitly stated in the Constitution. It is a fair question to ask: if they are implied rights rather than explicit rights, what is the source of parental rights?…Parental rights are based on ‘western civilization concepts of the family.’ When those concepts are no longer the legal definition of the family in this nation, then the foundation upon which parental rights are based is completely removed…Therefore, HSLDA will continue to fight against same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage attacks the traditions of the family in western civilization. This is an attack on parental rights.”[xiii] HSLDA takes this “attack on parental rights” so seriously that it has supported a constitutional amendment to ban not only same-sex marriage, but also civil unions for same-sex partners by means of “the Institution of Marriage Amendment” [xiv] (web page also now removed).

The problem with grounding parental rights in common law (on the one hand) and then denying children should be treated as parental property (on the other hand) is that, as we just saw, common law is a property-based system. These “traditional rights” of parents come from a tradition wherein the male patriarch of a household rules supreme. The patriarch is the sole recipient of legal rights. This tradition continued even through 1909 in the Oklahoma Supreme Court case Thompson that Chris Klicka eagerly cited. In that case we see the vestiges of the tradition: the father alone has supremacy over everyone; the mother has no legal supremacy; the children have no rights until maturity; slaves have no rights whatsoever. Thus HSLDA is holding a logically tenuous position by trying to claim that, because of the Western common law tradition, parents should have sole legal authority over their children and yet children should not be considered those parents’ property.

This not only creates a legal Twilight Zone. It also means that granting anyone other than the father of a household any rights would (as it has) upset the entire tradition.

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. 339.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid, p. 338.


[v] Ibid.

[vi] Encyclopedia Britannica, “Patria potestas,” link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[vii] A. Javier Treviño, The Sociology of Law: Classical and Contemporary Perspectives, Transaction Publishers, 2001, p. 21.

[viii] Paul du Plessis, Borkowski’s Textbook on Roman Law, Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 112-113.

[ix] James G. Dwyer, Religious Schools V. Children’s Rights, Cornell University Press, 1998, p. 72.

[x] See, for example, Michael Farris, “Parental Rights: Why Now is the Time to Act,” Court Report, Marcy/April 2006, link, accessed on December 3, 2015: “The legal principle used in Pierce was first announced in Meyer v. Nebraska. The Court announced that ‘those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men’ were protected under the Due Process Clause…If implicit rights are tied to history, then there is a solid basis for determining what was a recognized right at a particular point in time.”

[xi] 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.

[xii] Michael Farris, “Who Makes the Really Tough Decisions: Parents? Or Doctors?”, HSLDA, November 29, 2011, link, accessed on December 3, 2015.

[xiii] HSLDA, “Why HSLDA is Fighting Against Same-Sex Marriage,” link, accessed on December 12, 2014. Archived as PDF here.

[xiv] Michael Farris, “Questions and Answers Regarding a Constitutional Amendment on Same-Sex Marriage,” HSLDA, April 15, 2004, link, accessed on December 12, 2014. Archived as a PDF here.

Why HSLDA Finds the Proverbial Village Threatening

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.

[viii] Ibid.

[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.

[xiv] Ibid.

[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.

Evidence of HSLDA’s Anti-LGBT Advocacy Disappears From Their Website

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has never been subtle about their dislike of LGBT* people or their impassioned advocacy to ensure that LGBT* people are denied human rights and education. In 2004, HSLDA promoted a constitutional amendment that would ban gay and lesbian couples from not only the institution of marriage but also civil unions. They also created two pages on their website, one entitled “Why HSLDA is Fighting Against Same-Sex Marriage” and the other entitled “Questions and Answers Regarding a Constitutional Amendment on Same-Sex Marriage.” Both made explicit how much HSLDA perceived same-sex marriage as a threat to the very foundations of Western Civilization and threatened human rights everywhere. In 2006, the group again lobbied for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations, Will Estrada, personally filed HSLDA’s lobbying report. And in 2012, HSLDA Michael Farris made headlines for threatening LGBT* students from Patrick Henry College, a college created and funded by HSLDA.

Yet over the last 2 years, HSLDA has attempted to sweep all this under the rug. In a August 2014 interview with ThinkProgress, “[Will] Estrada said that the group no longer lobbies on this issue and that he did not know why it had done so then” — even though Estrada himself filled HSLDA’s 2006 lobbying report against same-sex marriage. Estrada later claimed that HSLDA fights “for the gay teen being bullied and his mom wants to homeschool him” — making no mention of the fact that HSLDA will also do everything it can to keep those gay teens from later getting married, getting jobs, keeping jobs, or going to college.

Most recently, HSLDA has quietly removed their most anti-LGBT web pages, including the aforementioned “Why HSLDA is Fighting Against Same-Sex Marriage” and “Questions and Answers Regarding a Constitutional Amendment on Same-Sex Marriage” pages. The only main anti-LGBT page remaining on their website is “Critical Decision on Text of Constitutional Amendment Protecting Marriage,” wherein Michael Farris declaims that, “The only way that we can stop same-sex marriage from infecting every state in the nation is to amend the U.S. Constitution.” And Farris minces no words as to what his goal is: “This may be the only time in U.S. history that we can stop the homosexual movement from obtaining full rights of marriage.”

HA has archived as PDFs all three pages here, here, and here.

Social Workers Don’t Have It Out for Homeschoolers (According to HSLDA’s Own Numbers)

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 14, 2015.

A New Jersey homeschool family is suing after a social worker visited their home and asked questions about their curriculum, their children’s medical history, and the safety of the firearms stored in their house. Buried deep in an article about the case are these paragraphs:

The case highlights the tension between state social welfare agencies and homeschool families as the number of children being educated at home continues to grow. More than 2 million children are now involved in homeschooling, said Michael Farris Jr., spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association.

“When we get calls, it will more than likely be about a social case worker who says, ‘I got a call from someone else who says you’re not educating your kids,’ or ‘We’ve heard that you’re spanking your kids,’” Mr. Farris said.

“Homeschoolers are a unique case, especially because there will be someone, a family friend or even a family member, who disagrees with their choice to homeschool, so they’ll call in an anonymous tip,” he said. “That’s what we’re seeing probably the most.”

These paragraphs—and especially Farris Jr.’s quote—make it sound as though it is extremely common—nay, essentially universal—for homeschooling families to be reported to social services. But is this really true?

I do have some personal experience in this area. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school and we never had social services called on us. In fact, to my knowledge, social services was never called on any of the homeschooling families I knew growing up, at least during the years I was there. And yet, Farris Jr. wants to make it sound like friends or family members who disagree with families’ choices to homeschool are making near-constant calls to social services.

Of course, my experience is purely anecdotal. Perhaps HSLDA’s statistics are more complete—after all, they have 80,000 member families and urge these families to call them any time a social worker shows up on the door. With that many member families and the frequency with which homeschooling families are reported to CPS just because they homeschool, their phones must be ringing off the hook!

Well, no, they’re not. Only last month, Slate revealed this:

Farris said his group gets 300 calls a year from dues-paying members worrying about “social workers at the door.”

As Slate points out:

This number . . . represents just 0.35 percent of the HSLDA’s membership, assuming each call came from a different family.

And then there’s also a 2013 HSLDA article that contained this paragraph:

The evidence suggests that abuse in homeschooling families is rarer than in the general population. In 2011 (the last year for which data are available), 6.3% of all children in the U.S. were involved in abuse investigations. The same year, HSLDA assisted approximately 1.2% of our member families in child protective services (CPS) investigations. The vast majority of these investigations were based on frivolous accusations (such as the children being seen outside during school hours or concern about a possibly messy home) and closed as unfounded. While this statistic is not comprehensive, it can be seen as an indicator of a generally low rate of abuse among homeschoolers.

I’m not sure how to bridge the gap between 1.20% and 0.35%—that’s a pretty big discrepancy—but either way, that’s a very low percentage of homeschoolers overall. In fact, these numbers reveal that homeschoolers are less likely than other families to have social services called on them. While the article stats that 6.3% of children overall are involved in abuse investigations each year, the number I found was closer to 4% for both abuse and neglect. Whichever number you use, homeschool families are less likely than other families to be reported to CPS.

The article quoted above suggests that homeschool families are reported to social services less often than other families because they are less likely to abuse their children. While this is certainly possible, it should be noted that abusive parents who homeschool are more able to isolate their children from adults who might see and report than are parents who send their children to school. Without more research, it’s hard to know all of the factors that may be at play here.

But I have to say, there is some serious irony in the fact that those at HSLDA believe they can argue both that homeschooling families are constantly reported to social services by upset friends or relatives and that homeschooling families have a low rate of child abuse based on of how infrequently people call social services on homeschooling families. 

Of course, if HSLDA was honest about how infrequently their member families are frivolously reported to social services—i.e. almost never—they would probably have a harder time maintaining members.

Farris and Co. Declare War on SCOTUS; Members Erupt Over HSLDA’s Statement on Same-Sex Marriage

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

Editors note 1: Story updated to include more information on HSLDA’s advocacy.

Editors note 2: Edited to include Michael Farris’ additional commentary on the Supreme Court published through Patrick Henry College.

Ed note 3: Added Farris’ question about tribal annexation.  

Today, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association made a press release regarding the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. As they have consistently asserted, they believe homeschooling will be negatively impacted by the court’s ruling. HSLDA has even advocated their anti-LGBTQ agenda in Russia, at the Kremlin, after many conservative organizations pulled out of a “family” conference. In 2006 , the group lobbied for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. HSLDA’s website claimed that “[s]ame-sex marriage attacks the traditions of the family in western civilization,” and is an “attack on parental rights.” You might also remember when Michael Farris threatened to sue QueerPHC, a blog run by queer students of Patrick Henry College, using his personal Facebook account.

Despite this record of public advocacy, HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations Will Estrada told ThinkProgress in August 2014 that HSLDA no longer lobbies on the issue of same sex marriage and he did not know why HSLDA had done so in the past. Mike Donnelly spoke at the Kremlin Conference in September 2014 – a month after Estrada denied HSLDA’s advocacy on the issue. Michael Farris set the doubt aside this afternoon when he adapted a Facebook post from his personal page and released it through HSLDA’s official PR channels.

Text of statement [image]:

Supreme Court marriage ruling

Dear HSLDA Members and Friends,

This morning, the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. This decision has the potential to affect the rights of parents, families, and others. 

We believe the right to homeschool is for everybody.

Families can teach their children what they believe is right about marriage, according to their conscience. And we will defend their right to do so.

The legal and social pressure from this decision is going to be extraordinary, most likely starting in the areas of business and public education. 

What might this look like? Public schools may be forced to be philosophically compliant with this decision. Children will be taught that there is only one way to view marriage and the family. We believe that families are going to seek educational alternatives that allow them to teach their children according to their conscience.

Consequently, homeschooling will grow. And as it grows, those who wish to impose philosophical restraints on homeschooling will increase their efforts to force us to comply.

Ramifications of this decision will include pressure on businesses and private associations, including homeschooling support groups, to conform.

HSLDA will fight to keep homeschooling free from philosophical controls, and maintain the rights of families to teach their children according to their conscience.
Mike Farris

Many HSLDA members responded in an admirable fashion. Many of the top comments on HSLDA’s Facebook post with this statement are criticizing them and pointing out the logical fallacies.

In response to the decision, many conservative politicians are attacking the institution of the Supreme Court. Michael Farris led the pack this morning on his personal Facebook [image]:

My response to today’s ruling in a nutshell… We must stop letting the Supreme Court exercise legislative power.

..We must fight judicial politics with grassroots politics. The only solution is the Convention of States. Four states have voted to call a Convention that can address this issue.

If we want to preserve American self-government, we have to push harder to overcome the naysayers and leftists who want to stop us…

All other alternatives are spitting in the wind. We have lost big time. The only solution is a big time reversal of judicial power.

Farris expounded on his Facebook post and HSLDA press release on Friday afternoon with an additional press release through Patrick Henry College that evening. [full text] The morning of the the ruling on ACA, Farris called John Roberts Judas through a “30 pieces of silver” illusion. Farris continues to hammer on the illegitimacy of the court’s decision and adds the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ruling to his argument:

The Court—not the Constitution—has legalized same sex marriage. No one can legitimately contend to the contrary. This occurs one day after the Court rewrote the Obamacare legislation to save it from a pragmatic death.

In the marriage case, the Court rewrote the Constitution. In the health care case, the Court rewrote a federal statute…


Our solution today requires this same general approach [that FDR used when he threatened to pack the bench]. We have to figure out a way to beat the judicial politicians with superior political tactics.

The core reason that the Supreme Court has this much power is revealed by the Court itself. In multiple opinions, usually in dissents, the members of the Court have acknowledged that there is no realistic check on the power of the Court other than its own internal sense of self-restraint.

If we want to preserve American self-government, we must impose additional restrictions on the power of the Supreme Court. Checks and balances need to be real, not merely theoretical.

Of course, Farris’ policy answer will determine your corresponding level of outrage. Everything he proposes would fundamentally change the nature of the Supreme Court because he disagrees about their decisions on abortion, same-sex marriage, and ACA. His Convention of the States project is his best chance to codify his interpretation of Christianity into the Constitution.

There are many ideas in circulation on how to do this. Term limits could be imposed on the justices. We could add “deliberate failure to follow the original meaning of the Constitution” as grounds for impeachment.

We could give the power of impeachment to state legislatures.

My favorite is to follow FDR’s court-packing idea but with vigor.Every state should be allowed to appoint a member of the Supreme Court. They could serve for a brief term, perhaps eight years. Removing Supreme Court appointments and confirmations from Washington, DC, is the only realistic way to ensure true judicial independence. Otherwise, you get the power cabal that we have in place which was clearly in play in this week’s Obamacare decision.

Continuing his theme of separation from US Federal Government power, Farris posed an open-ended question about having a tribe annex a state – presumably for him and others to escape certain federal laws.



Presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal echoed Farris’ institutional distrust of the Supreme Court as they position themselves to court the religious right. Apparently, they think the religious right desires Theocracy.

New presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, linked to Michael Farris and his ideology directly through his chief of staff, strategist, and confidante Farris’ protegee Timmy Teepall, will make “religious liberty a cornerstone” of his campaign. Jindal balked at the court’s decision on marriage and claimed “[t]he next step on this is the left and (Democratic front-runner) Hillary Clinton are going to be waging an all-out assault on our religious liberty rights.” In the same vein as Farris, Jindal advocated abolishing the entire court:

Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that… If we want to save some money lets [sic] just get rid of the court.

Huckabee and Gothard at a presidential luncheon Mike Huckabee, linked closely with the Duggars, Bill Gothard, and theocratic dominionism, took the most aggressive tone today:

I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat. 

Why is homeschooling linked with the same-sex marriage decision? I suggest reading about Michael Farris’ central role in crafting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and HSLDA’s strenuous advocacy for Virginia’s religious exemption rule. The fear of homeschooling parents is a weapon wielded by Michael Farris, HSLDA, and now an increasing roster of politicians who are threatening the United States’ democratic institutions because the Supreme Court has ruled their religious views cannot overrule marriage equality.

Homeschooling, and homeschoolers, deserve better than to be co-opted into resistance against the Supreme Court. And I’m glad many of HSLDA’s members have spoken out boldly today. Pulling their membership from HSLDA and defunding their efforts is the best way to send a message to HSLDA that homeschooling should not be about attacking our democratic institutions to further “religious liberty.”

HSLDA Opposes Anti-Bullying Bill

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Working Word.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 12, 2015.

HSLDA Opposes Anti-Bullying Bill is actually the title of HSLDA’s own article on a bill currently before the Iowa legislature. At least they’re being honest about it, I suppose? We’ve talked before about the ways the Home School Legal Defense Association’s lobbying veers out into topics that have nothing to do with homeschooling, but honestly, this case is out there even for them. Let’s have a look, shall we?

HSLDA opposes the anti-bullying bill now pending in the Iowa Legislature, SF 345, because of the breathtakingly broad authority it gives school officials off school grounds.

If the bill were only about running the public schools, HSLDA would probably stay on the sidelines. However, the bill is not just about running the public schools. It gives power to public schools to call law enforcement agencies, social workers, etc., if they believe any person has bullied a public school student.

So let’s get this straight. The “breathtakingly broad authority” the bill gives school officials is the “power . . . to call law enforcement agencies, social workers, etc., if they believe any person has bullied a public school student.” The bill doesn’t add anything to the criminal code. The bill is about school discipline. Yes, it states that school officials may call law enforcement or social services about incidents that occur off of school property, but that’s literally it. That doesn’t sound either “breathtaking” or “broad.”

Legal Changes

Section 5 of the bill would create a new subsection of Iowa Code section 282.28. It would be labeled as subsection 9.

Paragraph (a), the first paragraph of subsection 9, only allows schools to punish public school students. Paragraph (a) is not uniquely problematic for homeschool families.

But the second paragraph of subsection 9, paragraph (b), operates completely independently of subsection (a). Paragraph (b) contains no limits whatsoever as to whom the school can punish for bullying. It could be a homeschool student, a private school student, or any adult.

Actually, as we’ll see in a moment, this is wrong. Subsection 9, paragraph (b) is in fact dependent on subsection 9, paragraph (a). They go together, and there are limits. But there’s something else weird going on here.

The punishment in that case would be the school “referring” the matter to law enforcement, social workers, and other vaguely defined agencies. If you don’t think being investigated, intimidated, accused, or pressured by law enforcement or social workers is “punishment,” you have probably never been through it.

So wait a minute. Our legal process is designed to determine who has transgressed the law and what punishment is necessary for those who are convicted. But here, HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff is saying that the legal process itself is punishment. Look, I get that law enforcement can be corrupt or inept, and I get that disadvantaged populations may even find themselves exploited by the police, but the argument Woodruff is making is simply untenable.

But wait. Why would these individuals be reported to law enforcement to begin with?

Facing Allegations

And while paragraph (a) only gives the school power to mete out punishment if the bullying is “founded,” paragraph (b) allows the school to initiate punishment if the bullying is merely alleged. So based on nothing more than an allegation, someone with no connection with a public school could find a policeman, social worker, and others knocking at his door to investigate him.

SF 345 gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated. This is inappropriate and unwise. Therefore HSLDA opposes the bill.

HSLDA has veered into serious conspiracy territory here.

Let’s look at the bill text itself for a moment.

9. Authority off school grounds. 

a. A school official may investigate and impose school discipline in a founded case of harassment or bullying that occurs outside of school, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity if all of the following apply:

(1) An incident of harassment or bullying is reported pursuant to the school’s policy adopted under subsection 3, paragraph “e”.

(2) The alleged incident of harassment or bullying has an effect on a student on school grounds that creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the conditions set out under subsection 2, paragraph “b”.

b. A school official’s investigation and response to an alleged incident of bullying or harassment that occurs outside of school, off of school property, or away from a school function or school-sponsored activity may include referring the matter to appropriate community-based agencies including but not limited to social services agencies, law enforcement agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

Paragraph (b) cannot operate independently of paragraph (a) because it is about the investigation process outlined in paragraph (a). Without paragraph (a), paragraph (b) cannot function. In other words, what this section says is that if an incident of harassment or bullying off of school property results in a hostile school environment for a student, the school has the authority to investigate the off-campus incident and impose school discipline accordingly—and that their investigation and response may involve contacting social services or law enforcement. That is quite literally it.

HSLDA points out that paragraph (a) specifies that school discipline can be imposed in “founded” cases of harassment or bullying, but that paragraph (b) does not use the word “founded.” But paragraph (b) is crystal clear that reporting such cases may be part of schools’ “investigation and response” to incidences of bullying and harassment that take place off of school property and create an objectively hostile school environment. This isn’t insidious, it’s smart policy. Sometimes law enforcement will be best equipped to investigate these situations.

I cannot for the life of me understand how HSLDA takes this benign provision and comes away with the conclusion that the bill “gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated.” Look, in order to create “an objectively hostile school environment,” an incident of harassment or bullying that occurs off of school property will likely involve another student. In other words, this isn’t about homeschooled students. It’s about kids bullied by fellow students off of school property.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, that a homeschooled child manages to bully and harass a public school student to the point that that student’s “school environment” becomes “objectively hostile. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for this situation to be reported to law enforcement or social services, if the circumstances warranted it? Is this seriously what HSLDA is opposing here? Are they honestly arguing that homeschooled students have a right to not be reported to law enforcement for harassment and bullying that trumps public schooled students’ right to not be harassed and bullied? For real?!

Let’s look at how the existing law defines “hostile school environment”:

b. “Harassment” and “bullying” shall be construed to mean any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment that meets one or more of the following conditions:

(1) Places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property.

(2) Has a substantially detrimental effect on the student’s physical or mental health.

(3) Has the effect of substantially interfering with a student’s academic performance.

(4) Has the effect of substantially interfering with the student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or privileges provided by a school.

This is the section referred to in section 9, paragraph (a). It should be fairly clear at this point why the school making a report to law enforcement or social services might well be warranted if incidences of harassment or bullying off of school property were creating a hostile school environment for a child, as defined above. I mean good gracious, “an objectively hostile school environment” can mean an environment which “places the student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or property.”

I have to say, I am really bothered by the idea that reporting an incident of bullying or harassment to law enforcement or social services is some sort of terrible unwarranted punishment. I have friends who got death threats this week, over the internet. They reported these threats to the relevant law enforcement—and they were right to do so. It’s as though HSLDA thinks it’s reporting someone for bullying or harassment that is the real bullying or harassment.

Let’s look at HSLDA’s last line again:

SF 345 gives the public schools the power to punish every citizen in their district by causing them to be investigated. This is inappropriate and unwise. Therefore HSLDA opposes the bill.

You know, HSLDA is against mandatory universal reporting of child abuse for the same reason—they see being reported for child abuse or neglect as such a horrific experience that they would prefer depressed rates of reporting to save innocent families from being investigated even if it means some cases of actual child abuse and neglect go unreported. This is not how our legal system is supposed to work! The entire point of our legal system is to determine who is innocent and who is guilty!

Do you know what’s worse than innocent people being investigated and then cleared of all allegations? Abusers and harassers going unreported because reporting abuse is seen as worse than abuse.

My daughter is in public school. I would like to know that if a student from school is harassing her off of school grounds, the school would step in and do something about it—including calling law enforcement or social services if necessary. How HSLDA can take such an important bill and turn it into a threat to homeschoolers is utterly beyond me. What it comes down to is this: HSLDA is upset that schools may report cases of bullying or harassment that occur off of school property to law enforcement or social services. This is utterly reprehensible.

Michael Farris Admits RFRA’s Discriminatory Intent

Michael Farris on the Hannity Show, YouTube screenshot.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published in April 2015.

Like a lot of other people, I’ve been following the controversy surrounding Indiana’s SB 101, their state level RFRA bill that’s designed to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds.

Indiana’s RFRA has been compared frequently to the federal RFRA, both by supporters of Indiana’s law who claim that it’s no different thanwhat President Clinton signed into law in 1993, and opponents who point out that it’s much broader than the federal RFRA. What most people don’t realize about RFRA, however, is that while it was a popular piece of legislation that passed with bipartisan support, the religious right had their fingerprints on it from the beginning and always intended it to be used for much broader purposes than most of the bill’s supporters realized.

The coalition that drafted the original RFRA was either chaired or co-chaired (alternate accounts on HSLDA’s website say both) by HSLDA founder and then-president Michael Farris. Farris was one of the drafters of the bill, and takes credit for organizing the broad coalition that supported its passage.

HSLDA’s magazine The Home School Court Report describes it thus:

“After the signing, President Clinton spoke with [HSLDA’s representative at the signing Doug] Phillips and extended his gratitude for the role Farris played in the RFRA drafting and coalition-building process. “Tell Mike, I really appreciate the work he did drafting [the RFRA],” President Clinton told Phillips.”
(emphasis added)

At the time Clinton signed RFRA into law, the Court Report quoted HSLDA staff attorney Jordan Lorence as saying that,

“[A]s American culture and public policy grow more and more hostile to Biblical concepts and practices, the RFRA will help shield Christian families, and all other peoples of faith, from having to choose between surrendering their religious beliefs or suffering loss for standing true to their beliefs.”

My astute readers should be able to recognize that language as a culture war dog-whistle from a mile away. Indeed, Jordan Lorence now works for the Alliance Defending Freedom, where he’s spearheaded the string of cases from photographers, bakers, and florists all arguing that they have a religious freedom right to discriminate against LGBT people.

We don’t need to rely on dog-whistles, however. HSLDA has repeatedly stated that one of the purposes of the federal RFRA was to allow religious-based discrimination against LGBT people.

Describing what RFRA means to the average homeschooler:

“But consider what it means for religious people in other contexts: The government wants to say you can’t have a church policy that says you can only have male pastors. Or maybe your church doesn’t want to hire homosexuals. Or your support group doesn’t want to hire homosexuals. Then it would have an impact because the rights of organizations including churches are going to be judged on religious liberty principles alone.”
–Michael Farris, Marking the Milestones: The Good, the Bad, the Inspiring

Explaining why a proposed Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) was an insufficient substitute for RFRA because it would not protect:

“Christian landlords who are told by local law that they may not “discriminate” against unmarried couples or homosexual couples in renting out an apartment in their home,” or,
“Small Christian-owned businesses that are forbidden by local law from firing employees for openly immoral behavior.”
–Home School Court Report: Religious Liberty Protection Act: Does the End Justify the Means, May/June 1998

That brings us to yesterday, when, writing specifically about the Indiana law and his intent in drafting the federal RFRA, Michael Farris posted the following to his Facebook page. (screenshotted because his posts have a way of disappearing after I blog about them).


Oh noes, how dare the homosexuals ask to be left alone! Look at them there eating crackers like they own the place, don’t they know they’re supposed to be cowering in a closet in fear of the cops busting in and hauling them off to jail?

When Michael Farris talks disparagingly about LGBT people asking to be left alone, he’s talking about LGBT people wanting the police to stop raiding gay bars and arresting everyone inside. About not wanting to be forced to endure chemical castration like Alan Turing or prison like Oscar Wilde. About wanting to walk around in public without fear of being beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead only to have your funeral picketed by people with “God Hates Fags” signs. About not wanting to be subjected to “corrective rape.”

That, Michael Farris, is what asking to be left alone means.

In that one line he trivializes centuries of indignities, abuses, and torture that no human being should have to endure. As if asking for even the most bare minimum of basic human rights is too much to ask of society.

And no, Michael Farris, it’s not about “demanding the right to punish anyone who refuses to join their celebration.” It’s asking for equal protection under law. One of the bedrock principles of American law, and protection enjoyed by all other American citizens under our civil rights laws.

But Michael Farris already knows that, that’s why nearly two decades ago, before any state had marriage equality, HSLDA specifically stated that RFRA was needed in order to overcome nondiscrimination laws.

The smoking gun, though, is in the second half of his post.


See that last paragraph? Read it again.

“The state and federal RFRA would not allow a state or local antidiscrimination law (e.g. a gay rights law) to be applied to a religious person or entity without prevailing over a very high legal standard.”

Saying that RFRA would “not allow a state or local antidiscrimination law … to be applied to a religious person or entity without prevailing over a very high legal standard,” is another way of saying that religious people and entities are allowed to discriminate. More specifically, to discriminate against LGBT people.

Cloak it in religious language all you want, but the religious freedom that RFRA is intended to protect is the freedom to discriminate. And not just the freedom to discriminate in baking wedding cakes, making floral arrangements, or taking photos either. As was made clear in the quotes above, that freedom to discriminate was always intended to extend to denying LGBT people a place to live and allowing businesses to fire them.

I don’t know how you can get any clearer. This is one of the drafters of the original federal RFRA flat out saying that RFRA had discriminatory intent.

Discrimination in the name of religion is still still discrimination and it’s still wrong.


My followup post, complete with video of Farris’ appearance on Hannity, can be found here.

HSLDA Praises Parental Assault on Black Child

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 1.34.08 PM

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The city of Baltimore has been in an uproar over the homicide of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a lethal spinal cord injury while in police custody. In the wake of the homicide and its consequent protests, a video has gone viral that shows Toya Graham, mother of 16-year-old Michael Graham, physically attacking her child for participating in a street protest. The video spurred the hashtag #MomOfTheYear on social media, with many praising Toya’s violence against her son as proper “discipline.” For her part, Toya says she simply was terrified her son would become another Freddie Gray by participating in the protests, and acted out of desperation. “That’s my only son,” Toya explained, “at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,”

You can view the video in full here:

While Toya’s sentiment is understandable (and the fact that she felt she had to act this way just to save her child’s life a tragic reminder of the reality of white supremacy), her actions are nonetheless disturbing. In the video, Toya screams obscenities at her child (such as “get the f*** over here”) while repeatedly striking him in the face with her fist, violently shaking him, grabbing his neck, and shoving him. As Kathleen Harter, executive director of the Consortium for Children’s Services in Syracuse, says, “It sends a terrible message. The ‘Mom of the Year’ beats her child? I don’t think so. Had she thrown herself into a burning building or thrown herself in front of police bullets and saved her son’s life — maybe. But she’s not ‘Mom of the Year’ because she kicked his a**.”

The fact is, Michael is a minor and Toya slapped, shook, grabbed, and shoved him. Which means that Toya physically abused her child. Toya’s actions, however understandable or relatable, fit clearly and unequivocally under the definition of physical child abuse. The American Humane Association defines physical child abuse as “non-accidental trauma or physical injury caused by punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child,” even if it “results from inappropriate or excessive physical discipline” or is provoked by “crisis situations.”

What Toya did is illegal. It is child abuse.

But that didn’t stop HSLDA’s satellite organization ParentalRights.org from lauding Toya for abusing her child. (HSLDA founded ParentalRights.org in 2007.) On April 29, ParentalRights.org shared an article on their Facebook page titled “‘Mom of the Year’ Baltimore mother praised for smacking rioting son” (Facebook link here, archived PDF here). The organization added their own text, “Parents: The ultimate crime deterrent. #‎baltimoremom‬”:

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Tracy Klicka MacKillop, wife of the late HSLDA attorney Chris Klicka, chimed in with praise for Toya assaulting her son, saying she was “so proud” of Toya’s actions:

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Almost immediately people began questioning both the wisdom and rightness of ParentalRights.org and Tracy Klicka MacKillop so blatantly praising an act of child abuse:

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People pointed out the hypocrisy of praising Toya assaulting her son if they would not praise a father similarly assaulting his daughter:

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However, defenders of ParentalRights.org were not to be deterred. They argued that black boys like Michael are “animals” that need to be trained:

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Or they just admitted they would be ok if a father similarly assaulted his daughter and that a father “wailing on” his daughters was parenting, not abuse:

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Tracy Klicka MacKillop did not back down, arguing that the child abuse was a “courageous” reaction:

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ParentalRights.org, for their part, also did not back down. They responded that Toya’s assault of her child is evidence that she is a “good mom”:

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So there you have it. HSLDA’s ParentalRights.org believes that the physical abuse and assault of a black child is evidence of good parenting.

Additional reading:

Libby Anne, The Real Travesty of the “Hero Mom” Story

“To Save A Life”–Or, On HSLDA and the Rights of the Child: Rachel’s Story

HA Note: Rachel’s story was originally published on her blog on February 6, 2015. To learn more about Rachel, see her blog Between the Raindrops.Rachel's Story

I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately slamming HSLDA for being pro parents’ rights at the expense of children’s rights, protecting abusers, lobbying against mandatory education, and the like.And quite frankly, I’m sure that probably happens sometimes. Anytime you lobby for the rights of the parent, you risk disregarding the rights of the child, and vice versa. Things slip through the cracks. Granted, there will always be people who abuse both their children and their rights as their children’s parents. And mandatory basic education today could become mandatory state education tomorrow. I realize that.

But. I’d like to tell my story, if I may, and perhaps weigh in on my experiences with HSLDA.

So will you give me a few moments of your time?

I thank you.

My birthday is towards the end of winter. February, to be exact. But I’m not a huge fan of the snow.

A month after I turned 16, the depression I had been struggling with for a little over 5 years worsened, due to a painful breakup. I had been self harming for a while, developed an eating disorder, and that, plus the depression, put me in a fairly vulnerable state.

April of that year was the annual MassHOPE Homeschooling Convention, and I donned an armful of bracelets, along with the good girl mask, for a weekend, not really expecting anything positive to come of the convention.

Was I ever wrong.

The Teen Program that year was run by a team from Generation Joshua, the youth branch of HSLDA, and they had set it up in such a way that each teenager was assigned a post, based on his/her capabilities, in either the legislative or executive branch of the American Government, and had to navigate assorted diplomatic and other scenarios both at home and abroad.

It was a blast. My brother and I stayed up late, discussing the day’s events and planning for the next day, and mom remarked that she couldn’t remember the last time we were both this excited about something school – related. But what I learned from the program, about how the government works, wasn’t actually the most memorable thing of the weekend.

He was.

I don’t remember when I first noticed him.

Perhaps it was when he was introduced at the beginning, along with the rest of the staff. Perhaps during one of his “passing-out-paper-clips” rounds. Or perhaps the fifth time he stopped by my table to ask how things were coming, and didn’t seem to mind how hysterical we all became over the smallest hilarious thing. Or perhaps it was when I heard that my used-to-be-best-friend-who-I-just-met-again-that-weekend slapped him in the face and stole his phone simply because she came back to find him sitting in her chair for a brief moment, and he didn’t seem angered by it. Or perhaps it was when, after an hour of asking around, he was still the only other person who knew the difference between the Sunni and the Shia Muslims.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that he piqued my curiosity, since he seemed unfazed by the myriad of questions I asked, and after the weekend ended, I found him on Facebook and sent him a friend request.

He responded, and we started talking. I quickly discovered that my first impression of him was accurate. He allowed me to ask questions, encouraged me to keep seeking the truth, and somewhere over the following months we became friends.

I was struck by how non – judgmental he was, and the way he reacted with understanding and compassion, upon learning that I self harmed. He didn’t pull away from me, or shun me when I started questioning much of my fundamentalist upbringing, and discarding large portions of it at a time. In fact, he encouraged me to keep questioning and discover the truth for myself. He never unthinkingly touted the party line, and his answers always reflected deep thoughtful contemplation.

He allowed me to ask “why” incessantly, and didn’t get irritated or accuse me of trying to pick a fight because of it.

I found myself turning to him more and more with the difficult questions – the ones no one else was willing to tackle along with me. Such as, “Is God male or female, and how do we know?” “Does modesty matter, and why?” “Is ‘Christian patriarchy’ even Biblical?” “Why is Western Civilization considered the epitome of Christendom?” “Was the Civil War really just over states’ rights?” “What about the role of women in the church/home/state?” “Is courtship actually Biblical?” “What about purity?”

To date, he is still the only male to ever take the time to explain and discuss modesty with me.

He never made me feel inferior, never berated me for asking stupid questions, or called me anti-establishmentarian or a rebel, and never made me feel ashamed for being smart and that I had to ‘dumb myself down’ in order to be understood by him. He never lorded it over me that he was three years older, or treated me like a child.

Rather, he engaged on the difficult questions, and the fun ones, such as westerns, music, hobbies, etc.

When he found out about my eating disorder, he didn’t laugh and exclaim that I was skinny enough as it was. Nor did he attempt to solve my self esteem issues with a trite compliment. He reminded me that it was alright to allow scars to heal, and the pain I had experienced was no less real, simply because I no longer had the visible reminders of it.

He broke all the stereotypes.

Slowly, I grew to trust him.

I knew I could safely go to him for sound, yet understanding, advice on basically anything.

Such as the night I messaged him asking what he would tell someone who was planning on ending their life, and he insisted that I tell the person’s parents, because suicide is serious, and gave me his phone number in case all else failed.

His insightfulness struck me a few days later when I confessed that I was the suicidal person I had referred to in our earlier conversation, and his first response was that he had had his suspicions, therefore that revelation didn’t come as a surprise to him.

That conversation ended with me promising, at his request, not to kill myself. His argument? He wasn’t asking me to stop cutting, or start eating. Those things take time, he said. All he asked was that I choose life. So I agreed.

Two days later my father received a phone call from the director of GenJ himself, informing him of the way I was feeling, and that night ended with me in the Emergency Room due to an on-purpose overdose – they called it a failed suicide, and told me I was lucky to be alive.

It seems my friend cared more about whether or not I was alive, than whether or not I hated him forever for telling his boss in order to get me help before it was too late.

He later told me that this wasn’t the first time GenJ/HSLDA has had to intervene to save a life, yet, because of client confidentiality, were prohibited from publicizing those stories, and that while I was in the hospital, they had all been praying for me.

Exactly a week after my discharge from the hospital, I turned 17. By this time, I was fairly convinced that I had had my breakthrough – the week I spent in the hospital – and was now healed, and would no longer continue to struggle. And, once again, I was wrong.

My time in the hospital was only a partial fix. It temporarily allowed my issues to be brought to light and addressed, but the underlying unhealthy mindsets, which I remained a slave to, persisted. Within a month of discharge, I found myself once again in the same place where I had been prior to hospitalization – hopeless, despairing, starving, cutting, and isolating myself within the walls of my pain.

But instead of walking out on me, pointing out my failures, or calling me a disappointment due to my seeming inability to recover, my friend insisted that under no conditions would he allow me to push him away and shut him out. He consistently spoke truth to me, even when I had no desire to hear it, and kept telling me, over and over again, to ‘never ever ever give up’.

…and that I ought to come to camp.

See, Generation Joshua runs three, week-long, camps, at various locations around the country, and he apparently felt quite strongly that camp would be a positive experience for me. So, somehow, after much persuasion, I wound up at GenJ camp, in Virgina, for the last week of June.

By the time I made it to camp, I was a mess. I had starved myself for three weeks straight, prior to my arrival at camp, and although I hadn’t cut recently, I lied to him and packed blades ‘just in case’.

But that week blew me away…no, God blew me away. The people I met there were unlike any I had ever experienced before, in the best way possible, and every night, the chapel message left me in tears. It was as though God had decided, at the beginning of the week, that ‘Since I have your undivided attention for the entire week, and there is literally no way you can escape me, I am going to pull out all the stops on you…simply because you have been wandering long enough….and it’s time to come home.’

And through a series of events far too lengthy and complicated to go into in detail here, He did just that, and by Friday evening, the truth finally broke through to me, and I realized just how much I am loved, not only by others, but by God.

The lessons I learned that week changed everything. I regained my hope, my purpose, my faith, my life! I learned how to recover, and I truly chose recovery. To never ever ever give up. For him. For my family, my friends, and for myself. And by God’s grace, I never ever have to go back.

See, I feel like it’s so easy to forget that HSLDA is an organization, just like any other, composed of a group of diverse men and women with an overreaching aim to help and protect homeschoolers. There will be differences between their worldviews, and they sure aren’t perfect! Abuses will occur, regardless, but abuse happens to public school kids, private school kids, and boarding school kids, also. Some homeschooled children have died. But then again, so have countless kids in the inner city, and heck, even in the suburbs, and where was the government to intervene there? Besides, I know for a fact that neither he, nor anyone he works with, would ever endorse or condone allowing a parent to harm a child.

So, for me at least, HSLDA basically saved my life. Well, my friend really did. But, if he hadn’t worked for HSLDA, I doubt he would have told his boss, because his boss would not have known what to do. His boss would never have called my father, and I would probably be dead right now.

I am alive because a young man from HSLDA made the hard decision to save his friends life, even if it meant she might permanently hate him for breaking confidence, and then patiently, unfailingly, walked beside her for the next six or so months until, not only her life, but her soul, was finally saved.

Because his self-styled older sister convinced him to do what he knew was right, despite the cost, and, while at camp, held me when I cried, and allowed me to break down to her as she reminded me of truth, long forgotten, which I now believe again.

Because his best friend and best friends wife were willing to interrupt their pleasant evening of friends and fellowship in order to join hearts in supplication for the survival of someone they had never even met, and welcomed her later, when we met in real life, with open arms.

Because one of his closest friends, who was also my camp counselor, instead of rejecting me when I came to her with everything I had been struggling with, hugged me, and allowed me to open up safely without fear of misunderstanding.

But, finally, I am alive because the head of GenJ thought that the life of a teenage girl he had only met once was worth a phone call to her father asking him to get help for her before time ran out, which started a chain of events, ending in my salvation.

So, for everyone who says that HSLDA doesn’t care about the lives of children, only about the rights of parents, please hear me when I say that I would not be alive right now if it were not for HSLDA.

And for that, I will be eternally grateful.