QuiverFull is an Ideology, not a Movement or a Cult.

By Nicholas Ducote, HARO Director of Community Relations

In the last three years, the mainstream media has dedicated unprecedented coverage on Christian fundamentalism, QuiverFull, and Fundamentalist Homeschooling. One of the big parts of my and Ryan’s positions with HARO is to help journalists and researchers navigate the sub-cultures and their many niches and intricacies. I don’t claim to be the end-all of information about homeschooling and I am always learning new things. I hope this article can provoke a discussion about the nature of QuiverFull as a pronatalist ideology and how it relates to other ideologies in the Christian Homeschooling movement. I have to thank Kathryn Joyce for accurately labeling QuiverFull pronatalist over six years ago.

It may seem petty to dedicate an entire post to a discussion of terminology and definitions, but it’s vital to bring clarity to our experiences. Given the amount of time I spend with journalists parsing terminology, explaining the differences between Bill Gothard, Michael Farris, and the plethora of homeschooling organizations, we need to have more clarity in our terminology.

“QuiverFull” has become a catch-all term to describe Fundamentalist Homeschooling and Christian fundamentalism. At its core, QuiverFull is a pronatalist ideology about reproduction and family purpose that stems from a verse in Psalm 127. QuiverFull is not a self-contained cult, it is not an organized movement with clear leadership, but it does have a number of core advocates. QuiverFull is most useful to understand as a number of points on a sliding scale of reproductive ideology. It can seem like its own movement because the QuiverFull ideology can have a massive impact on your lifestyle. However, QuiverFull was likely pitched to its victims as a part of a greater menu of fundamentalist beliefs that provoke a wholesale lifestyle change. The most prominent and widespread conduit for QuiverFull was Christian Homeschooling. It was popular among that sub-culture to encourage families for “filling their quiver,” to crochet the Psalm 127 verse and hang it on the wall, or barely disguise QuiverFull language in family-first ideology.

Michael Farris, head of HSLDA and one of homeschooling’s oldest and loudest advocates, believes in the demographic battle that is central to QF, but he’s made it clear his version of patriarchy is not nearly as radical as Bill Gothard’s or Doug Phillips.

Michael Farris and his Pronatalist Ideology

What I see as the most commonly used definition of QuiverFull is one developed by Vyckie Garrison at No Longer Quivering. I’m very thankful for what Vyckie has done to elucidate the perspective of a parent who adopted QuiverFull ideology.

This may be merely an issue of journalists inferring things from her statements that she never says – and I understand things being lost in translation. However, I think her definition and explanations of QF are obscuring the variety in Christian fundamentalism and homeschooling. The movement and culture is far from monolithic because there are so many different “leaders” looking to claim a sliver of the base with their unique ideology. 

In each one of her descriptions of the individual beliefs of QuiverFull, there is a spectrum that runs from individualism at one pole to authoritarianism at the other. I saw a spectrum in the families around me each ideology spread across these two poles. Not all QF families attended home churches – we didn’t. We didn’t attend “QuiverFull seminars,” but Christian Homeschooling conventions where QuiverFull ideology was woven throughout the movement’s core. Vyckie explains that most in QuiverFull would never use that term to describe themselves, which makes it hard to understand how a QuiverFull movement existed without even using some sort of organizing rhetoric. And the reason for that is because a (limited) spectrum of Christian fundamentalism was on display at Homeschool Conventions.

There were many families who bought into the culture war and using children as cultural weapons, but would also emphasize individualism. The relative individualism was expressed in more liberal ideas about consent, gender equality, the ability of a child to individually discern God’s will, and the spiritual role of the father. I was often the most conservative and fundamentalist among my peer group, so I often marveled at the freedom allowed at more liberal ends of the Christian Homeschooling spectrum. The authority and omniscience of the Patriarchal Father also varied. ATI and Bill Gothard emphasized the “Umbrella of Authority,” which claimed God’s will was interpreted through the father’s will. If your dad agreed with you, it was God’s will; if he didn’t, it wasn’t God’s will.

However, QF was far from the only ideology present in Christian Homeschooling. Most of the fundamentalist cults, like the IFB churches, Bill Gothard’s ATI, or Doug Phillips’ Church, incorporate QuiverFull ideology into their menu of beliefs. ATI was radically QF in that they encouraged men who had vasectomies to get a surgical reversal and for women to have as many children as possible. Despite being deep in ATI and Christian fundamentalism, and the Christian Homeschooling movement, I picked up on a slightly different set of values on the spectrum.

QuiverFull is the Christian version of pronatalist ideology, not a singular movement or an organized cult, that is shared by most fundamentalist religions.  A movement requires an organized social component. A cult requires, among many other things, central organization. Literally across the world, different forms of religious pronatalism are impacting demographics. Conservative religious people are having more children

Eric Kaufman’s 2011 work Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/shall-the-religious-inherit-the-earth-by-eric-kaufmann-1939316.html) examined the modern trends of pronatalism across the world. Kaufman summarized his work thusly (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/03/19/interview-with-eric-kaufmann-author-of-shall-the-religious-inherit-the-earth/) :

Fundamentalists have large families because they believe in traditional gender roles, pronatalism (‘go forth and multiply’) and the subordination of individualism to the needs of the religious community.

Speaking to the nature and variety of these beliefs and trends, Kaufman explained that the pronatalist demographic trend is “more advanced in the developed world” because of urbanization, contraception, and modern medicine have reached a zenith. Kaufman adds:

The pattern is most immediate and intense within Judaism where the ultra-Orthodox are already a significant share (over 10 percent) of the population and have three or four times as many children as liberals and seculars. But even within Christianity and Islam, fundamentalists have twice the family size of seculars.

Catholics practice a form of pronatalism and they have claimed birth control, contraception, and all non-reproductive sex as immoral. Muslims of various sects practice pronatalism and the most orthodox and radical absolutely see their children as weapons in a demographic struggle. This pronatalist rhetoric is also a key component to racist nationalist movements through history. 

Additional readings on the international tradition of pronatalism:

Heather Jon Maroney, “‘Who Has the Baby?’ Nationalism, Pronatalism, and the construction of a ‘demographic crisis’ in Quebec 1960-1988,” Studies in Political Economy, 1992. http://spe.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/spe/article/viewFile/11878/8781

“Demographic trends, pronatalism, and nationalist ideologies in the late twentieth century,” Ethnic and Racial Studies Volume 25, Issue 3, 2002. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01419870020036701d#.VeNZVvlViko

Brown and Ferree, “Close Your Eyes and Think of England: Pronatalism in the British Print Media,” Gender Society 2005. http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~mferree/documents/BrownFerree-Close.pdf

Laura L. Lovett, Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890-1938 (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Monica Duffy Tuft “Wombfare: The Religious and Political Dimensions of Fertility and Demographic Change”, in Goldstone, JA; Kaufmann, E; Toft, M, Political Demography: identity, conflict and institutions, (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Press, 2011).

Romeike Family Granted Permanent Stay in the U.S.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

While the U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to review the Romeike family’s asylum case, the family was today granted “indefinite deferred status,” allowing them to stay permanently in the U.S. 

With the encouragement of Michael Farris and HSLDA, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their six children moved from Germany to the state of Tennessee in the U.S. six years ago. The family filed an asylum claim and argued they faced persecution because their conviction to homeschool conflicted with Germany’s educational policies.

On January 26, 2010, a U.S. immigration judge granted the Romeike family asylum on account of “persecution for homeschooling.” The granting of asylum (later overturned) was a significant legal precedent at the time. As HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly pointed out, this was “the first case ever to recognize homeschooling as a reason for granting asylum.” This was exactly the intended result of the Romeike case, as HSLDA was using the family as part of a global strategy, the end result being “to be able to say that homeschooling is a human right.” Donnelly himself said, “The Romeikes’ asylum victory is the culmination of years of groundwork to protect homeschooling.”

The decision to grant the Romeike family asylum was overturned two years later on May 24, 2012. The Board of Immigration Appeals determined in Romeike v. Holder that Germany’s general restrictions against homeschooling (homeschooling is illegal except in a few cases) do not target a specific social group, thus they cannot be construed as “persecution” justifying asylum.

HSLDA and the Romeike family appealed this decision to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. On May 14, 2013, the 6th Circuit denied the appeal. The judge’s decision was that, “The U.S. grants safe haven to people who have a well-founded fear of persecution, but not necessarily to those under governments with laws that simply differ from those in the U.S.” This decision was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 3, 2014, the Supreme Court declined to review the Romeike family’s case. The justices did so without comment. HSLDA’s response to this decision on Facebook involved a swipe at undocumented workers, saying, “If 12 million people can live here illegally, then surely there is a way to find a place for this one family.” News outlets published stories on the decision with a litany of curious headlines, such as WorldNetDaily’s “Supreme Court sends homeschoolers packing” and Fox News’ “Team Obama wins fight to have Christian home-school family deported.”

Today, however, HSLDA announced on their Facebook page that a supervisor from the Department of Homeland Security informed them that “the Romeike family has been granted ‘indefinite deferred status.'” HSLDA says this means “the Romeikes can stay in the United States permanently (unless they are convicted of a crime, etc.).” It remains unknown at the moment what individual or individuals chose to grant the Romeikes this status.

“Indefinite deferred status” is also expressed as “amnesty.” The current administration has granted amnesty to the Romeike family.

Below is a copy of HSLDA’s Facebook status, which you can view online here:

BREAKING NEWS!!! The Romeikes can stay!!!

Today, a Supervisor with the Department of Homeland Security called a member of our legal team to inform us that the Romeike family has been granted “indefinite deferred status”. This means that the Romeikes can stay in the United States permanently (unless they are convicted of a crime, etc.)

This is an incredible victory that can only be credited to our Almighty God.

We also want to thank those of who spoke up on this issue–including that long ago White House petition. We believe that the public outcry made this possible while God delivered the victory.

This is an amazing turnaround in 24 hours. Praise the Lord.

Proverbs 21: 1 “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord, He guides it wherever He pleases.”
~~Michael Farris

Lev Tahor and The Quebec Homeschooling Case

Nachman Helbrans (front), son of group founder Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said, "We were speaking with lawyers and organizations — especially the Home School Legal Defense Association and many associations associated with them — and all of them tell us that we must leave Quebec."
Nachman Helbrans (front), son of group founder Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said, “We were speaking with lawyers and organizations — especially the Home School Legal Defense Association and many associations associated with them — and all of them tell us that we must leave Quebec.”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on December 1, 2013.

Lev Tahor  or Lev Tohor [Website] is a fringe movement from within ultra-orthodox Judaism and is headed by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans (also known as Rabbi Erez Shlomo Elbarnes, Erez Albaranes, Shlomo Helbran, and Rabbi Shlomo Halbernetz) and his son Nachman. The Rabbi is now estranged from his wife and one of his sons, who are now in Israel.

Information below in the various news articles and blogs will detail information linking Rabbi Helbrans to the group “Hisachdus Hayereim” (Union of the God-Fearing) and others.

Brief History of Lev Tahor

Previously, Lev Tahor has been called a “Haredi burqa sect” or part of the “Jewish Taliban”.

Lev Tahor are known in Canada and Israel for homeschooling their children; their women and girls holding to very strict (even to Orthodox Jewish ideals) modesty standards that include wearing a similar clothing standard to a burqa or niqab, and a few run-ins with the law between the 1980s and 1990s. Lev Tahor is again in the news due to some child welfare and homeschooling concerns that the state of Quebec has with the group.

The name “Lev Tahor” could be translated clean or pure heart, which references a passage from Psalm 51:10, and began in Jerusalem in the 1980s. Shlomo and Malka Helbrans lived in Safed, Israel,  for six years as Baalei Teshuva. In the mid-1980s, though he had not been given Smicha, he opened a yeshiva (Braslav Yeshivat Hametivta) in Jerusalem after relocating his family there.

About a third of the sect members are baalei teshuva (Individuals raised as non-religious who later became religious.), another third come from other Hasidic groups, and the final third are people who have been raised in the movement. In the last thirty years, members have followed the Helbrans family from Israel to the United States and Canada.

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans Convicted of Kidnapping

Lev Tahor members are known in Canada and Israel for homeschooling their children and for modesty standards that include wearing a similar clothing standard to a burqa or niqab.
Lev Tahor members are known in Canada and Israel for homeschooling their children and for modesty standards that include wearing a similar clothing standard to a burqa or niqab.

The movement relocated to Williamsburg and later to Monsey [in New York] in the 1990s.  Sometime between 1991 and 1993, a student was put under Rabbi Helbrans’ wing to study for his Bar Mitzvah. The child went missing and his mother involved the police in the search for him. The child’s mother was not religious and was separated from her abusive husband who is now in Israel. He returned to the United States to search for his son and the rabbi attempted to extort large sums of money from the family to return the child to their care.

Once the son was returned, he appeared in court and  later ran away again, News reports had been made of his random appearances in various places around the world. Some reports say that he is no longer religious.

  • After a 10-month investigation by state and federal authorities, Rabbi Schlomo Helbrans, whose yeshiva Shai had attended, was indicted recently on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy, along with his wife, Malka, and one of his followers, Mordechai Weisz. The case is expected to go to trial sometime this fall or winter.. [Source]
  • Hearing that Shai refused to attend school, Weisz proposed that the boy spend Sabbaths with him, promising Hana that he wouldn’t let Helbrans get near the boy. Hana consented, and for a few weeks that arrangement seemed to work. Shai went back to public school and seemed to be returning to normal. [Source]
  • Tobias Freund, 36, the man convicted Wednesday, had told the grand jury that he was not involved in the boy’s disappearance, but prosecutors said he drove the boy out of the city. The boy has not been found. A jury convicted Mr. Freund of three counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice, for altering his phone records.[Source]
  • Rabbi Helbrans offered the plea of guilty to a charge of conspiracy to kidnap in the fourth degree in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn. The plea was part of an intricate arrangement with the Brooklyn District Attorney that will give the rabbi a sentence of five years’ probation and 250 hours of community service… Charges were dropped for… Malka..  [Source]
  • A Jewish teen-ager reunited with his parents after he disappeared for two years in a struggle over his religious training will be separated from them again, a judge ruled here today. [Source]
  • … Justice Thaddeus E. Owens rejected a plea deal granting probation to the accused rabbi — a deal the judge had already accepted last month — after hearing yesterday from the boy, his divorced parents, the rabbi and some of the lawyers in the case in an hourlong session in a packed courtroom.[Source]
  • The youth has said he willingly chose to live a secret life from early 1992 until late this February with various Orthodox families in Rockland County. His parents and lawyers contend now that he has been brainwashed and needs psychiatric care.[Source]
  • A Hasidic rabbi yesterday withdrew his guilty plea to a lesser charge and will stand trial on charges of kidnapping a Jewish teen-ager from his parents. [Source]
  • Shai Fhima, who has been at the center of a long custody battle after he disappeared with a Hasidic rabbi in Brooklyn, has disappeared again, his mother says. [Source]
  • Shlomo Helbrans, responded that Shai had voluntarily run away from a home in which he had been physically abused, and Shai made the same contention after he reappeared. The teen-ager also vowed that if forced to return to his parents, he would flee — a promise on which he has since made good. [Source]
  • Shlomo Helbrans, said ” ‘If you don’t want your son to be religious I have the right to take him away from you’ ” and after one of the rabbi’s followers “held my arm and twisted my arm.”She acknowledged that her son, who is now 15, wanted to stay at the Borough Park yeshiva rather than go home with her to Ramsey, N.J., but she suggested that he had been brainwashed.[Source]
  • The defense lawyers told the jury that Shai had voluntarily run away from a dysfunctional family in which his stepfather beat his mother and him, sending them to a shelter for battered women. They held that the rabbi and his wife had given the boy sanctuary and had not criminally abetted his disappearance.[Source]
  • Mr. Reuven, a 35-year-old Israeli citizen… learned from an Israeli newspaper article in late April 1992 that his son had allegedly been kidnapped on April 5, 1992. He said he then had a series of conversations with Rabbi Helbrans by telephone from Israel, while preparing to travel to New York to find his son. [Source]
  • With Mr. Reuven on the witness stand, a prosecutor, Michael Vecchione, read an excerpt from the transcript in which Rabbi Helbrans is quoted as having said to Mr. Reuven, “The amount that I committing (sic) myself to is in the neighborhood of $10,000. More than that I would not be able to.” [Source]
  • The leader of a small ultra-Orthodox Hasidic group, 32-year-old Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, was found guilty of abducting Shai Fhima Reuven, who was 13 when he disappeared in 1992. Helbrans’ wife, Malka, 33, was found guilty of conspiracy. [Source]
  • In suburban Rockland County, Shai’s mother is fighting for custody of him with Rabbi Aryeh Zaks. Pending a decision, Zaks has custody and Shai’s mother can see him once a week. [Source]
  • In a courtroom rife with rancorous passion, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi was sentenced yesterday to 4 to 12 years in prison for kidnapping a Jewish teen-ager who disappeared from his family for two years. [Source]
  • “This kidnap is not over for me,” the mother, Hana Fhima, said in a packed Brooklyn courtroom, referring to a battle she has been waging with another rabbi for custody of her son, Shai Fhima Reuven, since he resurfaced last February in Rockland County. The youth, now 15, was 13 when he vanished in 1992 after Mrs. Fhima sent him for bar mitzvah instruction to a yeshiva Rabbi Helbrans then ran in Brooklyn. [Source]
  • Tai Ellin-Byrd, one of the dozen jurors who convicted Helbrans of kidnapping … said that “this sentence is morally appropriate.” The jury, which deliberated for just five hours following the five-week trial in New York State Supreme Court, was “pretty much unanimous” about Helbrans’ [guilt] as soon as they walked into the deliberation room. [Source]
  • Mr. Weisz was originally charged with kidnapping, but the case was severed from the charges against Rabbi Helbrans. Malka Helbrans, 33, who was tried along with her husband, was acquitted of the kidnapping charge but convicted of criminal conspiracy. [Source]
  • “I feel the evidence was legally insufficient,” Justice Thaddeus E. Owens of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn said in dismissing the wife’s conviction. On Nov. 9, a jury had convicted the woman, Malka Helbrans, of conspiring to kidnap the teen-ager, Shai Fhima Reuven. [Source]
  • For the first time, New York State accepted a computer-generated image of what an inmate, in this case, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, would look like without a beard instead of making him shave for a conventional photograph.  [Source]

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans Deported

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was found guilty of abducting Shai Fhima Reuven.
Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans was found guilty of abducting Shai Fhima Reuven.

During the court case, it was uncovered that the Rabbi moved to the United States illegally. By 1994, Rabbi Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping a minor child.  His wife and a member of the sect were given lighter sentences.  A book was written about the case and entitled “The Zaddik: The Battle for a Boy’s Soul”, which was published in 2001.

There are some allegations that Rabbi Helbrans was given preferential treatment during court proceedings and his later incarceration. He did not complete his lengthy jail sentence.

  • PEOPLE v. HELBRANS, June 17, 1996
  • The federal probe also focuses on whether the Pataki administration gave preferential treatment to Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who in a notorious case in 1994, was convicted of kidnapping teenager Shai Fhima Reuven from his mother. Wiesenfeld, a former aide to Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) and a former FBI agent, declined to comment about the grand jury. [Source]
  • The federal government is also focusing on a similar but separate case involving possible lenient treatment given by parole officials to Shlomo Helbrans, a Hasidic rabbi imprisoned in a widely publicized kidnapping case. Rabbi Helbrans was deported to Israel in May, his lawyer has said, but federal officials say their investigation is continuing. [Source]
  • An influential Pataki fund-raiser also intervened in the case of Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, seeking an early release hearing, according to the papers and sources.[Source]
  • State records show that prison officials moved the rabbi, Shlomo Helbrans, from prison into a work-release program even though he was ineligible for the transfer because Federal immigration officials wanted to deport him. The transfer in June 1996 was rescinded after a Federal prosecutor who had brought charges against Rabbi Helbrans protested to state prison officials.[Source]

After being awarded parole, Rabbi Helbrans was investigated by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and deported to Israel in 1996.

  • Rabbi Helbrans, 38, an Israeli citizen, was arrested Wednesday night by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the police station in Spring Valley, N.Y. …was put on a plane for Israel at 5:25 p.m., his lawyer, Ronald G. Russo, said.  [Source]
  • Immigration officials on May 11 deported Helbrans, 38, on two grounds: that he entered the United States illegally and that convicted felons can be deported.[Source]
  • The rabbi was found guilty of kidnapping, jailed for two years and deported to Israel — despite testimony from Shai, who had resurfaced after two years in places like a yeshiva in France, that he had voluntarily run away after the Helbrans family showed him ”what a normal family was.” [Source]
  • In 1997, a book about the trial (With Liberty and Justice for all?) was written by Jacob Y. Zick. It is now available on the Lev Tahor website in PDF format.

Lev Tahor Moves to Canada

Sometime after this, Rabbi Helbrans was linked to the Marii Zambron murder case in New York in 2000. [Source] The Lev Tahor movement then relocated to Canada [in 2000] while the rabbi was on a on a temporary visa. Families of the sect began joining him soon after. While this is not unusual for most of Orthodox Judaism, it is what was uncovered after this in Canada and Israel that is pertinent to the current case in Canada.

  • Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Elbarnes, 2005 FC 70 (CanLII)
  • Vaad Hoaskonim, a New York-based rabbinical council with members in Williamsburg, Boro Park, Monsey and Queens, ruled that Elbarnes’s movement is “a great threat, spiritual and physical, to the Torah-observant community.” The council forbade members of their communities to associate with Elbarnes and urged his followers to leave him. [Source]
  • Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board, an independent tribunal, accepted Elbarnes’s claim that he would be in danger if deported to Israel, and so it granted him refugee status. This month, however, the Federal Court of Canada granted leave to the federal government to appeal the tribunal’s ruling. The appeal is to be heard October 5, probably in Montreal. [Source]
  • Those speaking up for him included well-known Montreal human rights lawyer Julius Grey and anti-Zionist history professor Yakov Rabkin. [Source]
  • Elbarnes advocates the end of Israel as an independent country and turning the land over to the Arabs, he would likely not enjoy protection by the Israeli government because his ideas could be viewed as dangerous.  [Source]
  • Elbarnes, 42, was granted refugee status by IRB judge Gilles Ethier, who based his decision on documents, written testimony and the oral testimony of eight witnesses, including Elbarnes’ mother, described as secular, and the abducted boy, now an adult. [Source]
  • Shlomo Helbrans-Satmar style Rebbe and head of polygamist cult (Lev Tahor) based in Quebec. He is accused of marrying off his underage daughter to a man in his 30’s and arranging similar such marriages among members of his cult. He was also involved in the notorious Shai Fhima abduction case, it is also interesting to note Fhima’s own allegations that he was sexually molested while living among the cult. [Source]
  • Rabbi Shlomo Helbran and his wife Malka and Mordechai Weisz,were originally accused of physical abuse and kidnapping of a 13-year-old boy.  The rabbi was also accused of having cult like practices.  Rabbi Helbran was convicted in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in 1994 of kidnapping a young boy.  At the time Helbran headed a small group described as an offshoot of the Satmar movement of the Hasidic Jews. [Source]

In 2004, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada linked Neturei Karta and Lev Tahor together and sought to better understand these communities.

In 2006, The Awareness Center, Inc.  put together research on Lev Tahor and Rabbi Helbrans.

In 2007, there was a hearing convened by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, concerning Lev Tahor and Rabbi Helbrans

In 2008, Lev Tahor were among the protesters during the  Israel Day celebrations in Montreal.

  • The major addition to this year’s Jewish protest at the Israel Day commemoration was the 35 Lev Tahor Chasidic community members from Ste-Agathe, north of Montréal with Rabbi Elbrans.  [source]

Beit Shemesh Family Causes Concerns about Child Marriages

One incident about Lev Tahor that came to limelight in 2011, concerned underage girls being sent from Israel to marry within the community in Canada.

  • The girls, aged 15 and 13, were forcibly detained by Canadian immigration officials in Montreal and returned to Israel apparently under order of an Israeli court. The girls’ great-uncle had petitioned for the writ out of concern that the girls would be harmed by the group in Canada, that their property would be taken, and that they could be forced to wed male members of the Lev Tahor sect.  [Source]
  • The parents of the girls decided the community in Canada would be suitable and sent them from Beit Shemesh to N. America, hoping to have them there in the Lev Tahor village in time for Rosh Hashanah. The family members who petitioned the court feared that in the cult’s community, the Lev Tahor village, they would be compelled to get married in line with the groups hashkofa towards keeping them pure. [Source]
  • The episode has raised questions about the legitimacy of Lev Tahor, and an Israeli court will rule next week on whether membership of the sect should be made illegal for all Israelis. If this happens, one implication is that social welfare agencies will be empowered to take away member parents’ children. [Source]
  • The girls in the midst of the firestorm, ages 13 and 15, are the daughters of two secular Israelis who became ultra-Orthodox and joined the sect. Their grandmother and great-uncle, concerned for the girls’ well-being, petitioned the court after the girls’ parents put them on a plane headed to Canada, to an isolated village outside Montreal that comprises 45 families from Lev Tahor. [Source]
  • The spiritual leader of Lev Tahor in Canada, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, denied using coercion. “Use force? We want everybody who is not 100 percent happy … to leave us,” Elbarnes told the Globe and Mail. [Source]
  • Bringing the Beit Shemesh sisters back to Israel was an international operation, involving the foreign ministry and Interpol. The goal of the operation was to stop the pair from entering the ultra-Orthodox community in Canada. [Source]

Israel Investigates Lev Tahor

It was after this incident that the Israeli government began renewed investigations into the sect over alleged kidnappings and other child welfare issues. Some of the parents in the sect were given injunctions to prohibit them leaving the country or sending their children to Canada as investigations were underway

  • …an Israeli court is expected to decide next week whether it is legal to belong to the extreme ultra-Orthodox group Lev Tahor, known as “the Taliban sect.” A decision reached this week by a family court in Rishon Letzion indicates that a ruling on Lev Tahor’s legality is imminent. [Source]

In 2012, Rabbi Helbrans was again in the news in New York, discussing his 1990s kidnapping case.

Also in 2012, Israeli newspapers, Haaretz Daily and Israel HaYom, began investigating the sect and published exposés on Lev Tahor, its leaders, practice, strict kosher rules and the welfare of its members. Israel HaYom discussed the origins of the sect, various run-ins with the law and other accusations and concerns, whereas Haaretz Daily embedded a reporte in the culture and report on what he saw and heard. The blog, “Shearim”, discusses the exposés from an Orthodox perspective. Israeli Channel 10 also investigated Lev Tahor after several allegations about the sect had been made and much concern was expressed by individuals who have family members in the sect.

  • Haaretz spent five days with the controversial ‘Lev Tahor’ Haredi community in Canada to uncover the truth about the sect and its charismatic head, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. Part one of a two-part series. [Source]
  • In the second part of Haaretz’s investigation into the Lev Tahor Hasidic cult in Canada, Shay Fogelman speaks to the group’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, about his prison time in America and the community’s attitude to underage marriage, to a young man who managed to leave the religious extremists and to a mother who defend their hard-line way of life. [Source]
  • The very existence of the radical community, aloof and controversial is not new: since the early 90s been linked to various cases, including those who came to the Israeli police, the FBI and courts in Israel and the United States [Source]
  • “In general, there were a lot of threats and penalties. There was an atmosphere of abstract fear. When my sister talked to a step-brother, a son of our mother’s new husband, my Rebbe punished her with the prohibition to leave the house for several days. . .” [Source]
  • Helbrans who is, according to Israel Hayom without any SMICHA from the Israeli Rabbanut (Chief Rabbinate) wrote his own books and this is what he is teaching his followers. Still in Jerusalem, he studied with the Toldot Aharon for a while and afterwards in Satmar but insisted on founding his own group.[Source]
  • ‘Lev Tahor’ congregation, a radical sect located in Canada, was reviewed last night (Wednesday) extensively in ‘True side’ a broadcast program by Amnon Levi on Channel 10 [Source]
  • Channel 10 accompanied Aryeh Leber, a cult refugee, who is operating a search campaign for his mother [Source] – Videos in Hebrew
  • Shay Fogelman put up an exposé on Rabbi Helbrans in two parts at T.O.T. Private Consulting Services blog. Part one and part two are quite lengthy on the history and practices of the sect.

Shortly after, Jewish paper Vos iz Neias, The Jewish Voice and Behadrey Haredim also carried stories on the sect in the fall of 2012.The articles discuss the Channel 10 exposé, among other information. Due to the time limits of the show, not everything was able to be covered, so Behadrey Haredim did their best to share everything else that they felt was pertinent to the case by interviewing a current member about the accusations made about Lev Tahor.

Beit Shemesh Family in the News a Second Time

Some of the members of Lev Tahor were involved in trying to illegally leave Israel with their children to join the sect in Canada in the summer of 2013 after court injunctions that halted their movement out of the country. They were caught in Jordan by Jordanian police and later returned to Israel for trial. This was the same family implicated in the 2011 incidence involving Canadian immigration returning two underage girls to Israel after the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

  • The ultra-Orthodox Jewish family, consisting of parents and six children, crossed the border with Jordan, on Wednesday night and was arrested by the Jordanian authorities. [Source]
  • Parents of six children trapped in Jordan when they tried to join the Lev Tahor cult were brought before a judge, and refused to be represented by attorney [Source]
  • This family, along with many of the members of Lev Tahor are balei teshuva, which is to say newly orthodox.  They previously hit the headlines in 2011 in Israel when they attempted to send two of their daughters, then aged 13 and 15, to Canada, only to have them forcefully returned to Israel by the Canadian authorities. [Source]
  • According to Channel 10, initial questioning revealed that — contrary to early speculation that they had accidentally wandered into the neighboring country while hiking — the family had intentionally entered Jordan in an attempt to circumvent a court order, sought by the father’s family, forbidding them to leave Israel. [Source]
  • Orit Cohen, sister of the father who was arrested in Jordan in an exclusive interview to B’Chadrei Charedim • “My brother was caught into the cult “Lev Tahor” • “the haredi public must condemn the cult and leader Shlomo Halbernetz [Source]
  • The Beit Shemesh family that tried to join him is led by parents who were not raised in the religious Jewish community, but became religious in adulthood. They joined the hareidi-religious community in Beit Shemesh and began raising six children there. [Source]

Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans’ Wife Ejected from the Community

In Spring of 2013, The Rabbi’s wife, Malka Helbranz was apparently ejected from the community. She has since returned to Israel. There isn’t much news coverage on this issue in English at this time.

  • Malka Halbernetz is not the only one who abandoned the sect. So far there were several cases of families or family members, after receiving assistance from external sources left the cult. The Center for Victims of Cults was established seven years ago and so far has handled over 10 center cases of families and individuals who abandoned Lev Tahor. [Source]
  • “She is staying at the home of one of the women in her family in the north of the country,” says a source involved in the details of her escape. The source added that the community in Canada are pleased and happy that she left, “They never liked the fact that the leader’s wife denies any of their methods.” [Source]
  • The trouble for the rabbi’s wife began after she voiced opposition to the rampant child abuse going on in the community. “The main reason for my sufferings is the fact that I dared to voice opposition to the punishments that are being used in the village,” Malka said. [Source]

I also found that one of the Rabbi’s sons has also since returned to Israel, and has been ostracised from the group. He is, however, still active in the religious community.

  • A son of the group’s leader fled the group and moved back to Israel. According to Nachman Helbrans, this brother was in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife, left for Israel, and then claimed his children were being neglected. Several children from that family were removed and sent to live in Israel with the father. [Source]
  • On Shabbos afternoon, about 50 protesters came to the corner of Devora Haneviah Street in the capital, where – as every week – they protested against the desecration of Shabbos in the city. At about 16:30 a garbage truck passed by that came to clear the garbage can which is situated nearby. The wrath of the protesters skyrocketed. Halbernetz’s son, who was among the group of protesters, lay on the road behind the truck to block it and stop the continued activity on Shabbos. [Source]

2013 Homeschooling Case in Quebec

Sometime in 2013, investigations began in Quebec on the Rebbe’s son Nachman and the Lev Tahor community. There were concerns about the children’s education and welfare, match-making efforts and young ages of girls given in marriage; as well as allegations of abuse and mind control.

Later on, investigations into the conditions in the Lev Tahor community had been found that the children were not being instructed in English and French, but rather in Hebrew and Yiddish and would be unable to call for assistance should anything happen to their parents or another member of the sect in an emergency. It was also found that the girls were not getting the same standard of education as the boys, and that the children were unable to do basic mathematics.

Due to the investigation in Quebec, after discussing the issue with a few homeschool advocacy groups (including the HSLDA), the Rebbe and his son moved the community to a town in Ontario, which then involved both Quebec and Ontario’s Child Welfare Services and court systems. From what I understand, Canada is also trying to get information on the group from the United States and Israel.

  • About 40 ultra-Orthodox Jewish families living in the Laurentians, in the closed community of Lev Tahor, disappeared this week without warning — leaving youth protection officials in Quebec worried about the safety of 120 children.[Source]
  • About 40 families belonging to the cult, tried yesterday (Tuesday) to flee the country, having realized that the welfare authorities intend to intervene in raising their children. [Source]
  • Under the Monday morning moonlight, at about 1 a.m., 40 families numbering nearly 200 people boarded a convoy of buses to flee their homes and what they considered the imminent threat of Quebec’s child protection authorities.[Source]
  • “Youth protection services reiterates its will to collaborate, in any way, to assure the safety and well-being of the children in the community,” said a written statement issued by Quebec’s youth protection department Monday evening.[Source]
  • A hearing has been scheduled at the St. Jérôme courthouse Wednesday. [Source]
  • “The reason for departure of the community,” explains its people in the notice, “decrees on education in Quebec. Other communities in Quebec and abroad (eg Antwerp) are struggling against the decrees in court, but the situation with Lev Tahor, because it is a small community is much more serious.” [Source]
  • Israeli media have previously reported that the ultra-orthodox Lev Tahor group engages in forced marriages. Child protection services north of Montreal had issued a summons for Lev Tahor members to appear before youth court on Thursday on allegations of child abuse. [Source]
  • Chatham-Kent Children’s Services says the group will not get any special treatment. “If there are issues to be followed up on we would conduct our business the same way we would with any other situation that presented itself to a child protection agency,” says Interim Executive Director Stephen Doig. [Source]
  • “The nature of this community is to go back to the old traditions,” he said. “Freedom of religion is important to us. This is something that in Ontario that is much more respected.” Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada expressed its concern for the children living in the Lev Tahor community. [Source]
  • Authorities in Ontario say they are aware of the group’s presence in the region. The local police force in the Chatham-Kent area has given a similar statement [Source]
  • Nachman Helbrans, a member of the Jewish fundamentalist group, Lev Tahor, talks about the groups move from Quebec to Ontario amid a child neglect investigation, while at a motel in Windsor Ont., where they are temporarily staying. Nachman is heard saying that the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and other homeschooling associations suggested they leave Quebec. [Video Source]
  • CTV News Video, 28.11.2013
  • “They force us to learn things that are against our religion, such as evolution,” Goldman said, adding that he believes the authorities planned to take the children and place them in a foster home. [Source]
  • “The education system in Quebec does not comply with our views because in Quebec it says each child should receive equivalent education, otherwise, they will call youth protection services,” said Helbrans. “We cannot just accept the curriculum, including evolution and many other issues we cannot teach our children.” [Source]
  • Uriel Goldman, spokesperson for the fundamentalist Jewish group Lev Tahor speaks in in Chatham, Ontario on November 28, 2013. [Video Source]
  • Despite being a convicted felon, he was granted refugee status in 2004, after he claimed to be in danger if he was sent back to Israel because of his extreme anti-Zionist views. [Source]
  • Ontario reportedly has liberal requirements for faith-based home schooling. [Source]
  • Nachman Helbrans, a spokesman for the sect, has said they want to educate their children according to their own religious beliefs and fled to Ontario to avoid Quebec’s education system, which “doesn’t give freedom of religion as most people understand it.”[Source]
  • “We’ve received complaints from former members of the sect, about abuse allegations, which we referred to (Youth Protection Services) in the Laurentians,” Ouellette said. [Source]
  • “For sure we are worried by the fact that they fled Quebec to go to Ontario,” Denis Baraby, director of youth protection for the Laurentians region, said Friday. His workers have been actively involved in the community since August, trying to help children suffering from poor hygiene, inadequate housing and unsatisfactory schooling. [Source]
  • “There were health issues, hygiene issues, the houses were dirty with garbage everywhere,” Baraby said in an interview. Education was another issue, Baraby said. The children were home schooled and “not even capable of doing basic math.”[Source]
  • In a radio interview with Radio-Canada on Tuesday, Quebec Education Minister Marie Malavoy called the situation “sensitive” and one that must be taken seriously. The Education Department had negotiated with the community over the children’s schooling, which is largely religious teaching in an environment without proper permits.[Source]
  • According to Canadian media, one of the charges against the families was that their children – who are homeschooled – did not know basic math, and in several cases, could not speak either English or French. [Source]
  • He said boys learn the basic Quebec curriculum, including history and math, but most of it is in Yiddish. He said the group has even taken the necessary steps to translate textbooks into Yiddish. Girls are taught basic home economic skills, like sewing and cooking. [Source]
  • “The schooling matter is one issue but not the only. There were important shortcomings, serious negligence,” said Denis Baraby, director of Centre jeunesse des Laurentides. “Their children, even at age 10 or 12, wouldn’t be even be able in an emergency to ask for help.” [Source]
  • He said his group recently spent thousands of dollars on textbooks for such things as math and history. He said most adults in his group speak English or French, though he acknowledges that the children speak only Yiddish or Hebrew. He said the Quebec government demanded that Lev Tahor teach things members disagree with, such as evolution and homosexuality. [Source]
  • Quebec youth protection services told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that there are concerns that the children were neglected. The children reportedly were forced to live in the homes of families other than their own for punishments. [Source]
  • A youth court judge in Quebec has ordered that 14 children from the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor be placed temporarily in foster care, undergo medical exams and receive psychological support.The order also compels the children’s parents to turn over their passports. [Source]
  • Quebec Judge Pierre Hamel said in his ruling that he believed the children were at “serious risk of harm” after hearing testimony from three child-protection workers as well as a former member of the sect, who related what he endured while living in the community and how he ultimately fled the group.[Source]
  • A number of the children are at or near the age of 13, which Shlomo Helbrans has said is the ideal age for marriage under his interpretation of Jewish law. The eldest of the children targeted by the court order—a married 16-year-old — is the mother of the infant child that has been ordered into foster care.[Source]
  • Two families from an extremist haredi Orthodox sect will comply with a court’s order to return to Quebec for a hearing on allegations of child neglect, a sect leader said. Nachman Helbrans, son of the community’s leader, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, said the families will meet with child protection officials on Wednesday, the Toronto Star reported Monday. [Source]
  • Judge Pierre Hamel issued the ruling Wednesday night, ordering the children be removed from the community and placed in foster homes immediately, for at least 30 days. [Source]
  • The emergency order Wednesday from Quebec Youth Court Judge Pierre Hamel said the children should be placed in foster care for 30 days and receive medical and psychological evaluations. They are to have no contact with Shlomo Helbrans, or other Lev Tahor members, and contact with the families is to be tightly controlled by child protection investigators in Quebec. [Source]
  • Yoil Weingarten, a member of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect Lev Tahor, defends his community and accuses Israel of being behind the persecution of his community. [Video included at Source]
  • Oded Twik has urged the Canadian authorities to remove all 137 children from the community. Dozens of family members and supporters attended a demonstration outside the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv on October 14. Many family members have not communicated with their relatives for eight years. [Source]

Due to the investigations in Canada, Israel has ramped up their efforts in hearing more information about the sect and deciding what to do, in a spirit of cooperation with American and Canadian authorities. Special hearings are now underway in the Knesset. [Israeli Parliament]

  • Hitting children with iron bars, denial of food, taking psychiatric pills by coercion and total disconnection from the family in Israel. These are some of the testimonies heard today (Tuesday) by the Committee in the Knesset, about the Israeli families at the ‘Lev Tahor’ community in Canada. [Source]
  • On Tuesday the Knesset’s Committee on the Rights of the Child held a hearing on Lev Tahor, and families of the cult members as well as MKs slammed the State Prosecutor’s Office for dragging its feet on the case. [Source]
  • In the meeting representatives of the Ministry of Internal Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Justice Ministry, the Welfare Ministry, the ”Lev Ahim” Organization, INTERPOL, the National Council for the Child and the victims of the cult will be present. [Source]
  • Hitting children with iron bars, denial of food, taking psychiatric pills by coercion and total disconnection from the family in Israel. These are some of the testimonies heard today (Tuesday) by the Committee in the Knesset, about the Israeli families at the ‘Lev Tahor’ community in Canada. It was also told about achieving compliance by constant pain such as wearing shoes smaller than one’s shoe size, forced divorce and marriage.. [Source]

I have put all of this information together in hopes that it will help anyone who is currently investigating this issue to find out more about Lev Tahor, the rabbi and his family, issues with the police and immigration authorities and the homeschool community.

It is, very often, difficult to wade through the sea of information and get to the heart of the issue, and it is my hope that this post will enable you to do just that. Keep in mind that any articles posted in Hebrew can be run through Google Translate. It is not the best, but you will understand the basics of what is being said.

German Churches Up in Arms over Abuse Study

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on November 25, 2013.

German Bible. Photo by J. Stahl.
German Bible. Photo by J. Stahl.

In following the story of the Twelve Tribes, I had become aware of a study on religious families and their children, tendencies towards abuse and such being carried on within Germany. I had heard about the study. But not being registered to either the Evangelical, Free Evangelical or local Catholic Churches, we were not polled for the study, though we are a religious household.

I am somewhat curious as to what was in the survey itself. It seems rather revealing that the Free Evangelical churches are showing many of their members do, in fact, regularly beat their children.

For those who do not know, this is illegal to do in Germany.

One of my many concerns within the homeschooling movement and the greater German church community (especially after coming out of this environment in the United States) is to get away from the punitive and corporal punishment mindset, seeing children as sinful inconveniences unless they’re perfectly behaving like little adults and back to what the Bible actually teaches; namely love and parenting being a job of parent and child to do together.

My second major concern was finding on Amazon.de teachers such as: Michael and Debi Pearl (To Train Up A Child is now removed, but No Greater Joy volume 1volume 2 and volume 3 remain); Ted Tripp has three books represented (this remains, and as does this also); James Dobson‘s harmful books; Bruce Ray’s Withhold Not Correction (also a Spanish edition!); Gary Ezzo‘s books; Elyse Fitzpatrick’sTim Kimmel‘s (there is a second book here), and a couple other religious punitive-based child training manuals can be found.

Finding those books means that there is a market here in Germany. That, as someone who was raised so punitively, terrifies me. It terrifies me because this means there are other children being raised this way, who will not know a day in their lives where just being children is not a sin.

I had heard that some time back, that one branch of the Evangelical Churches in Germany had made statements against corporal punishment and other punitive discipline methods, which created some shock when I saw the results of this study: 45,000 students from 9th grade forward and about 11,500 adults were polled (so over 50,000 individuals) and they found that one in six very religious children are smacked by their parents or given other punitive disciplinary methods against their undesirable behavior(s).

In the Catholic and other Protestant students, the rate is considerably lower, if not rare.

The results of the study were published here, and does run through Google Translate in a mostly discernible manner into English. The name of the study is “Christian religiosity and parental violence. A comparison of familial socialization of Catholics, Protestants and Members of the Free Churches.”

More on the study and why everyone’s up in arms:

With parents from free churches that have no academic training, but declared themselves as “religious” or “very religious”, the trend is even more pronounced: More than a quarter of the surveyed children from these families has at some juncture suffered massive violence in their household. The study’s authors also provide a possible explanation: There is “a Christian tradition of parental driven beating as discipline for children.”
NDR – Freikirchen wehren sich gegen Gewaltstudie

The findings in the survey are quite shocking to me. I’ll post some of the figures below for those of you who don’t have time to sift through a pages long PDF:

Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.pdf
Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.pdf
Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.pdf
Source: http://www.ndr.de/regional/niedersachsen/freikirchen109.pdf

Now, these are in order, but without all of the information behind what makes this all so shocking. What I want to point out is that this is consistent with studies done in the United StatesCanada, the United KingdomAustralia and elsewhere as it pertains to parental violence towards children and its affects on the children involved. One study paper that someone had pointed me towards a couple of years ago was “The Long Shadow: Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.” Psychology Today has several articles about this phenomenon as well. One that stands out in my memory is “The Lingering Trauma of Child Abuse.” (Note: My list is not exhaustive, but just to give an example of what one will find on the subject.)

Articles referenced within this NDR article and the PDF are as follows:

…in the late 90s the German Parliament had established a Study Commission to look at so-called sects and mind-control groups. The study found that in fundamentalist Christian communities there is a widespread “…significant advocacy for physical punishment…”
NDR – Kinder schlagen im Namen Gottes 21.12.2011

NDR.de: Critics say the national church must be clear in distancing themselves from such fundamentalist positions. Shouldn’t you make it clearer that you do not agree with such  positions [about corporal punishment being biblical]?

[Kerstin] Gäfgen-Track: In the case of these parenting books and this position, I can speak for the national church, because we draw a very clear line of demarcation. We have nothing to do with such, so we want to continuing having nothing to do with such. We wish to strongly condemn such counselors. [Ted Tripp and so on]  
NDR:  “Wir verurteilen das aufs Schärfste” 21.12.2011

…as they contradict the law and [Christian Beliefs], there is a secret culture of spanking among devout Christians… Parents who follow these beliefs belong to denominations such as those [found in the] Evangelical Free Churches and the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are apt to taking the Bible literally, and consider doubts about the Word of God as whisperings of Satan.
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Liebe geht durch den Stock 30.9.2010

…It is striking that the violence of evangelical parents seem to have a lasting effect on their young. With [such] systemic beatings, it may be that parents seek to break the will of children so that they would assimilate the beliefs of adults; warn psychologists..
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Schläge im Namen des Herrn  17.10.2010

There was a study published in April of this year (2013) by infoSekte in Zürich, Switzerland entitled “Erziehungsverständnisse in evangelikalen Erziehungsratgebern und -kursen.” (Yes, this too can be run through Google Translate!) It is 61 pages long, detailing “Problematic trends such as corporal punishment or psychological violence arising in connection with certain child rearing methods … [and] possible effects of certain parenting styles.” Also explained in the document is how Switzerland signed and ratified the UN Rights of the Child in 1997; and such parenting styles are incompatible with such an agreement.

The UN Rights of the Child is the very same document that many Christians in the United States have pushed for a refusal to ratify since the 1990s.

(The US has signed, but not ratified as of this date in time.) Also something to note; Michael Farris has really pushed home-schoolers into a frenzy over it as taking away parental rights to discipline punitively and claim it is “biblical.” (For the uninitiated, Michael Farris is the head of Patrick Henry College, The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and loosely affiliated with Schuzh, which defends many German home-schoolers in court. You may have recently seen Michael Farris in the news pushing against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

If you get a chance, please do read this study. I understand that 61 pages is awfully long, but it is worth it. There is a serious problem when familial violence becomes an accepted piece of one’s culture and religious upbringing — when we normalize it to the extent that no one is shocked at all.

Issues brought forward by the Twelve Tribes in Germany are not at all shocking in many parts of the United States because such methods have become so normalized.

So many people believe it is the right thing to do. Anything contrary is “unbiblical.” That is not to say that there are not Christians, like myself, who believe that corporal punishment is actually what is contrary to the Bible.

If one wishes to claim that the Bible teaches beating their children, I would have to recommend you go back and actually investigate those claims for yourself as this is not understood to be the case within the Jewish community; and from whom we get the proof-text “spanking”/”smacking” passages from. It is a purely Christian phenomenon that came into place some time in the middle ages, as far as I can find at this juncture. Before, corporal discipline was for adult members of the faith who wished to submit themselves to flagellation.

One book that discusses this phenomenon and suggests a better way is Samuel Martin’s Book, Thy Rod And Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy.  I have others, should you wish to peruse them, but they are not free.

There are wonderful articles referenced here in an older post on my blog and I also have a ton on my Pinterest parenting boards, should you have an account there.

If you don’t know about the Pearls and their harmful teaching, I’d be happy to throw you more than the recommendation to read Hermana Linda’s Blog and this review of the Pearl’s ministry.  I would also like to mention that any court willing to speak with me personally is more than welcome to discuss punitive upbringing, homeschooling, corporal punishment proof-texts, etc.  I’m not an expert, but I’ve lived through it and am working to change things with my children and advocating for others to the best of my abilities.

Update: Michael and Debi Pearl and critiques about them and information on the Hana Williams case were on CNN last night via Anderson Cooper. If you still doubt the methods this couple advocates, look no further.

I would like to leave with a closing message by Robbyn Peters. It is “Violence: A Family Tradition.” For those who are still unconvinced, I ask that you please consider Robbyn’s words and investigate for yourself.

Update on the Twelve Tribes in Germany: Child Abduction Charges


Background on the Twelve Tribes in Germany situation:

The Twelve Tribes, Child Abuse, and Michael Farris

How American Homeschoolers Enabled and Funded German Child Abuse: The Real Story Behind the Religious Right and the Twelve Tribes

Pray For All the Children of the Twelve Tribes, Part One

Pray For All the Children of the Twelve Tribes, Part Two


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on November 5, 2013.

If you’ve not been following along on my blog, you will want to read hereherehere and here before continuing on.

Here is the latest news on the Twelve Tribes group. Two girls that were in foster care have been missing for a few weeks. They have now been figured to be with their parents and in Switzerland. Below are the news stories I can gather as swiftly as possible. (HA note: these are translated with Google Translate, so the translations are a little rough.)

RTL – Spanking sect 12 Tribes: Two children kidnapped?

Merea K. and her sister Eva — For almost two weeks, the two girls are untraceable. Of their daily school in Ansbach, the two have not come to her foster parents home. The youth welfare office is on the case. Apparently, the 9 and 17 year-old girls are in the clutches of a cult that brutally punishes their children.

Donau-Ries Aktuell- Twelve Tribes: Two children abducted abroad?

The incident occurred about three weeks ago. The two children were placed in a foster family in Dombühl and come from the community in Wörnitz. On the day of their disappearance, the girls went to school like every other day. However, they did not come back. Their foster parents reported the case to the authorities in Ansbach.

Spiegel – Christian sect “Twelve Tribes”: Two children disappeared from foster care

Whether the children returned voluntarily to their parents or whether they were taken from their parents against their will, could not say a spokeswoman for the district office. This is the subject of ongoing investigation.

BR – “Twelve Tribes” disappeared children with their grandmother

 According to current knowledge of the prosecution Ansbach, “the two girls went voluntarily to Switzerland. Their parents also plan to stay in Switzerland.” Chief Public Prosecutor Gerhard Karl told Bayerischer Rundfunk on request. How the children moved to Switzerland, is currently unclear, according to the authorities.

SWR –  Religious community “Twelve Tribes” Missing children are at grandmother’s

The members of the sect who live on the estate Klosterzimmern in Deiningen is accused of beating their children for religious reasons. Therefore, the authorities concerned parents deprived of the custody .Mid-September, the girls were placed with a foster family… As the children moved to Switzerland, was unclear, said a spokesman for the district office. The Authority has filed a complaint against persons unknown for child abduction. In addition, they submitted a request for return of the children. However, since the girls had dual citizenship, this is difficult.

Homeschooling Is A Human Right, But That Doesn’t Make It Immune To Regulation

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 1.49.33 PM

Homeschooling Is A Human Right, But That Doesn’t Make It Immune To Regulation, By Nicholas Bolzman

HA note: Nicholas Bolzman blogs at Looking for Overland, a joint blog project “authored by three friends who met at Patrick Henry College and then worked together at the Home School Legal Defense Association.” Nicholas Bolzman received his JD from Michigan State University College of Law last spring and is a graduate of Patrick Henry College.

In a recent post, Ryan made the case that homeschooling is not a human right and, as a result, state regulation of homeschooling (or even outright prohibition, as in Germany), does not amount to a violation of human rights. As much as I have been appreciating his examination of homeschooling culture, in this instance I disagree with his analysis. When I posted a truncated version of this on Facebook, he asked if I could expand it.

Ryan uses the example of the right to travel, which is a basic right, and contrasts that with the right to travel by horse, which is not a basic human right. He then equates homeschooling as the right to travel by horse, which is different, he argues, than the basic recognized right. In his argument, the former does not include the latter.

This analogy requires further examination. If the right to travel is a human right, then the exercise of that right (such as by horse, or by boat, or by car) would be likewise protected. Or, to use a parallel argument from American law, Ryan’s argument is like saying that since the First Amendment doesn’t mention blogging, government censorship would not violate the First Amendment.

Absent protections of specific methods of exercising rights, the abstract right does no one any good.

Ryan also included a discussion of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which he cited as authority for the child’s right to an education. However, his analysis only lightly brushed on part 3 of Article 26, which explicitly endorses the right of parents to direct their child’s education. Article 26 in its entirety reads:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

The context for this third provision is particularly interesting, especially given the question of homeschooling in Germany. Johannes Morsink, professor or of Political Philosophy at Drew University, explains the history of that very provision in his book The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent:

Article 26 (on education) is one of the articles most clearly shaped by the experience of [WWII]. This article has three paragraphs, a nuts-and-bolts paragraph that is a standard constitutional item, a goal-and-purpose paragraph, and a paragraph that gives parents a prior right in deciding what kind of education their children shall have. The second and third paragraphs were put in the article as a way of condemning what Hitler had done to Germany’s youth and of making sure that it would never happen again….

The War Crimes Report that the Secretariat had drawn up for the Human Rights Commission explained to the delegates, as if they needed to be told, that “‘in order to make the German people amenable to their will and to prepare them psychologically for war,’ the Nazis reshaped the educational system and particularly the education and training of German youth, imposed a supervision of all cultural activities, and controlled dissemination of information and the expression of opinion within Germany as well as the movement of Intelligence of all kinds from and into Germany.” The second and third paragraphs of Article 26 were written in direct reaction and opposition to this Nazi abuse of state power. Paragraph 2 of the article states: “Education shall be directed to the full development of human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

The first draft of Article 26, paragraph 2 was placed on the drafting table by Bienenfeld of the World Jewish Congress because his organization felt that there was a need to spell out both the goals and the spirit of educational institutions so as to avoid all kind of brainwashing the Nazi state had engaged in. Article 26’s third paragraph was added for the same reasons. Both the Dutch and the Lebanese delegations submitted amendments about parental rights. It being the shortest one, the Lebanese amendment was adopted after a vigorous discussion. The defense again was that the Nazis had usurped the prerogative of parents when they demanded that all children enroll in poisoned state-controlled schools, the paragraph was especially necessary because the word “compulsory” had been used in the first paragraph. [internal citations omitted]

Citing Morsink, Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon also made the same point in her book on the Universal Declaration.

Given this explicit wording and direct context to compulsory attendance laws, it is difficult to say that Article 26 does not permit parents to opt out of said compulsory attendance laws and seek alternative forms of providing for their children’s education.

Those alternative methods would include homeschooling.

Furthermore, similar wording identifying this prior right of parents appears in other human rights treaties. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art 18(4), states that “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, art. 13(3) declares “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”

Even the oft-criticized Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 29(2) cautions that no educational goals “shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.”

All of these, while recognizing the authority of the state to set minimum standards, protect the rights of parents, either individually or collectively, to determine the methods of education for their children.

The government’s role is secondary—to ensure that the parents fulfill their obligation to the children; but the obligation (and corresponding ability) is first and foremost on the parents. In this sense, they resemble Blackstone’s description of parental responsibilities and rights in education.

The last duty of parents to their children is that of giving them an education suitable to their station in life: a duty pointed out by reason, and of far the greatest importance of any. For, as Puffendorf very well observes, it is not easy to imagine or allow, that a parent has conferred any considerable benefit upon his child by bringing him into the world, if he afterwards entirely neglects his culture and education, and suffers him to grow up like a mere beast, to lead a life useless to others, and shameful to himself. Yet the municipal laws of most countries seem to be defective in this point, by not constraining the parent to bestow a proper education upon his children.

* * *

The power of parents over their children is derived from the former consideration, their duty: this authority being given them, partly to enable the parent more effectually to perform his duty, and partly as a recompense for his care and trouble in the faithful discharge of it. And upon this score the municipal laws of some nations have given a much larger authority to the parents than others. The ancient Roman laws gave the father a power of life and death over his children; upon this principle, that he who gave had also the power of taking away. But the rigour of these laws was softened by subsequent constitutions; so that we find a father banished by the emperor Hadrian for killing his son, though he had committed a very heinous crime, upon this maxim, that “patria potestas in pietate debet, non in atrocitate, consistere.” But still they maintained to the last a very large and absolute authority: for a son could not acquire any property of his own during the life of his father; but all his acquisitions belonged to the father, or at least the profits of them, for his life.

Notice how both Blackstone and the human rights documents connect the parental power to parental responsibility, placing responsibility first. A failure of the responsibility can certainly lead to a forfeiture of the power, but that failure must be demonstrated before the forfeiture takes place.

Consequently, even though the right to select the education for one’s child is a human right inherent in parenthood, it is not absolute (a point parental rights advocates often miss, and I suspect, the larger point Ryan was trying to make in his original article).

No human right is absolute.

Free speech does not include libel, and it subject to neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. The consensus is that even life itself can be taken under the right circumstances, as demonstrated by the permission of the death penalty and abortion. Likewise, this parental right does not include the right to deprive a child of education (which should be self-evident, since the parental right stems from and is related to the child’s right to an education.).

As with other rights, it can be subjected to reasonable minimal regulation, as well as forfeited under certain circumstances.

But in those instances, the burden of proof is on the state to show why the interference with the parent-child relationship is necessary.

Absent that, the parental right wins.

Pirates, Bible Abiders, and The German Tea Party: What Germans Think

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Pirates, Bible Abiders, and The German Tea Party: What Germans Think, By Jennifer Stahl

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on September 28, 2013 with the title, “German Homeschooling Cases – What do Germans think? What sort of political lobbying is going on?”

One of the things I get asked quite frequently is “What do those living in Germany think about parents who want to teach their children at home?” Also, “Is there as much hype in Germany about these cases like what we’re hearing in the US?” which is quickly followed by, “Is it just not in your news?

I’d like to try to share some of what I have seen and heard in response to those questions.

Germany has a completely different tradition:  compulsory education – which was introduced in Prussia almost 300 years ago, and applies to all children from the age of six forwards. Parents who disagree with the curriculum, may establish a private school if need be, as the state requirements for this are quite strict. Those who choose to teach their children at home do so illegally.
Spiegel:  Homeschooling: Bibel-Lehre statt Sexualkunde
[Homeschooling: Teaching the Bible instead of sex education]

 The German laws mandating public-school attendance date back to Germany’s first experiment with democracy in 1919, according to Hans Bruegelmann, an education professor at the University of Siegen.
…previously private education was only available to the elite, and that the public-school mandate was a clear political choice.
“…school is an embryonic democracy and will help to integrate children and young people coming from different backgrounds into the democratic culture,” …
US judge grants German homeschooling family asylum

 “At home, children only experience one segment of society, where they live, learn and grow up. They don’t get to see the broad spectrum, which our young citizens need to be exposed to,” said Bunselmeister-Lohr.
 More Families in Rural Areas Opting for Illegal Home Schooling

 I do not think that Germany should allow homeschooling. We already have a huge problem here with immigrants …especially women and children — being kept at home by their male relatives due to religion and cultures that they have brought with them and therefore those women and children cannot speak basic German and know virtually nothing of their rights or obligations in Germany.
Anti-Americanism, Homeschooling and Happy Housewives

 We are a family from Germany now living in New Zealand because we had to leave our country because of homeschooling…
In Germany we felt …persecuted …as the German government is not interested in Christian education anymore. We did homeschooling in Germany in a bilingual way so the children had no difficulties to move into an English speaking country. They passed the tests at a homeschool cooperated school very well, as well as all other native speakers. ..here in New Zealand …children are far more accepted in the society than in Germany. — Laurien Family, NZ
Readers’ Mixed Feelings About Germany’s Homeschooling Ban

 Parents have to take care that their children attend classes. If the parents fail to push their children to participate in the lessons,they are actively violating compulsory education laws…
Sohn schwänzte Schule: Mutter muss sechs Monate ins Gefängnis
[Son skipped school: mother has six months in jail]

Home-schooling fuels a heated debate in Germany. Families in favour of home-schooling say they are persecuted without cause. Critics point to the extreme religious views of some home-schoolers and question the safety of allowing children be educated without state oversight.
‘We have the power to take your kids away’

 “What I could imagine is for homeschooling to be allowed within narrow parameters, with students being frequently tested by authorities,” said Heinz-Peter Meidinger, head of the Deutsche Philologenverband, an association of German high school teachers. “What I would not welcome is when such students are the rule and not the exception.”
German Parents Wanting to Homeschool Turn to EU Court

Patrick Meinhardt, education speaker for the FDP notes, “I don’t want to start writing up a lot of new rules for homeschooling. I imagine that as long as some state control over the curriculum and teacher training remains, home schooling should not be restricted any more.”
In short, the FDP advocates using the laws on the books for private schools, in order to finally open the door to home-schooling in Germany. The other German parties, however, generally oppose homeschooling more out of…fear that the teachers and their materials will be substandard…

 Patrick Meinhardt also said: “Parents have a fundamental interest to be able to decide on what sort of education their children have.”
Erstmals Globale Konferenz zur Bildungsfreiheit – Homeschooling bald erlaubt? 
[First Global Conference on Freedom of Education –  Will Homeschooling be allowed soon?]

At the meeting talk education experts and practitioners of homeschooling from many countries, including the USA, Russia and Finland. Even the FDP Bundestag member Patrick Meinhardt , educational policy spokesman of the FDP will hold a keynote speech.
Berliner Konferenz zur Bildungsfreiheit 
[Berlin Conference on the Freedom of Education]

Perhaps the most significant formal accomplishment of the summit was the signing of the Berlin Declaration by home education leaders and human rights advocates from all over the planet.
The document outlines various human rights conventions and treaties protecting the fundamental right to choose home education while calling on rogue governments to end persecution and repression.
WND EXCLUSIVE Parents shed tears over homeschool-crackdown horrors

As far as political lobbying goes; it looks like there was some hope when the Piraten Partei (Pirate Party) was founded, that they would help legalize home education. This was voted down by 76% vote in the party. (source 1, source 2)

So, Hausunterricht.org (HA note: run by Jörg Großelümern, board member of HSLDA-affiliate Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit) put together a note for German home educators to say who was the best choice to vote for just prior to the elections. The basics were that none of the available ruling parties with majority in Parliament could be worked with for various reasons.

Instead, we’re referred to vote for the PBC.

(Which, actually, I’d never heard of. I feel slightly embarrassed by this fact.) (HA note: PBC is “The Party of Bible-abiding Christians,” or “Partei Bibeltreuer Christen, PBC),” a conservative evangelical minor political party in Germany.) They flat out said the CDU/CSU (“Christian Democratic Union of Germany” / “Christian Social Union of Bavaria”) were not workable.

For what it is worth, I didn’t even see the PBC being given a listing when votes were counted. Maybe they were listed under the all-encompassing “other”. I’m not certain.

A German home-schooling page on Facebook went another direction, suggesting the Alternative für Deutschland party.

Below is a screen capture from a German pro-homeschooling group, pushing for its supporters to vote for the AfD — Alternative für Deutschland — in this year’s election:

“Tomorrow is election day in Germany. The Alternative für Deutschland is the only party we can trust to give us any hope of a legal decision on homeschooling in Germany. In terms of training and education, we can expect them not to mindlessly parrot the sick collectivist consensus (on the legality of home education).”

A screen capture from a German pro-homeschooling group, pushing for its supporters to vote for the AfD — Alternative für Deutschland — in this year's election.
A screen capture from a German pro-homeschooling group, pushing for its supporters to vote for the AfD — Alternative für Deutschland — in this year’s election.

Now, I had been following some of the news on the AfD.

I had noted that they are quite similar to The Tea Party in the US, with the exception of being an actual political party, rather than a movement.

Apparently, I was not the only one who noticed this, as it was being discussed in almost every German newspaper that I perused. There were some other things that stood out to me, that caused the recommendation above, to cause me to have quite raised eyebrows and wide eyes. My hope was that they would not make the 5% threshold to get into Parliament, not because of their policy towards home-schooling, but due to their other political aims and leanings.

(For those who absolutely must know, I cannot vote in any of these elections. I can only express much interest and research as much as I like about these things.)

Its openly anti-euro message has prompted a debate in the governing Christian Democrat (CDU) party, for example – is silence the best policy or should the party’s pro-Deutschmark message be addressed head-on?
…The AfD usually gets 2-3% support in the opinion polls. If it can raise that to 5%, under the electoral laws of Germany it gets seats in the Bundestag (lower house), and in a coalition system, small parties then have power.
Germany’s new anti-euro AfD party causes political stir

Who reduces the AFD on their right-wing populism ignores the real ideological threat posed by that party…

The paleolibertarian calls for the submission of all areas of life to the market ideology. Social authorities such as the family and the church are there to protect the individual from the state, which is the enemy of paleolibertarian. The EU opposition of the AFD fits seamlessly into the philosophical ideas of fundamentalists. Anyone who wants to reduce the state to a minimum, of course, also rejects any form of a strong central government.
 Die Gefahr der neuen Partei ist nicht der Rechtspopulismus – Die deutsche Tea Party
[The danger of the new party is not the right-wing populism – The German Tea Party]

 Behind the scenes, a power struggle is raging between a liberal wing, to which many former members are from the FDP, and a conservative part, where the boundaries are quite fluently leaning towards right-wing populism. Questions over of whether gay marriage is right, whether the nuclear power making a comeback or whether individuals should have a right to “homeschooling.”..
Alternative für Deutschland – Wie die Wähler die AfD zur Protestpartei machen [The Alternative for Germany – How the voters make the AFD into protest party]

For those who do not know, there is a Fünf-Prozent-Hürde, or a Five Percent Hurdle that each political party must reach to enter into the German Parliament.  The AfD will have participated for the first time in federal elections this September. Emotions were high and everyone wondered how much wind would be in their sails. In the end, they won 4.7% of the vote. This doesn’t mean much in the way of Parliament, but it can mean something for some local elections.

I don’t really understand all of this, since my husband is extremely pacifist and isn’t big on history, politics or political parties. I haven’t seen enough of our friends or extended family to discuss politics in ages, and the last political book I have about German political parties (in English, mind you) was published in 2003. We have a few new parties since then and some of that information is quite outdated.

What I do know, though, from my experience in the United States, is that you always follow where people are saying to vote and examine that as far as you can to better understand where they fall politically and what sorts of other beliefs they hold.

All of this really leaves me scratching my head.

The more I find out about the people willing to suffer heavy fines or jail and what political parties they’re pushing, the more I feel like I’ve fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole.

The Fundamental Reality of The Family Is Not Just Amorphous “Rights” Language

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The Fundamental Reality of The Family Is Not Just Amorphous “Rights” Language, By Virgil T. Morant

Virgil T. Morant is a lawyer in northeastern Ohio. He practices civil litigation and criminal defense, as well as corporate law, and his work includes representation of clients in disputes over education and child custody. He is also a member of the International Law Section of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. His personal blog is Lasseter’s Lost Reef.


“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”  

That’s article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, one part of the International Bill of Rights from the United Nations.  While one does not need an especially fertile imagination to think of a good many people whose disdain for the U.N. (or suspicion at the least) would give little consideration to the authority, and while ordinary people don’t typically go around citing U.N. resolutions, that statement transcends legal controversy or political debate: it states a principle that is widely shared.

It is not just a statement about the organization of society: it is an affirmation of how people generally feel about the dignity and centrality of home and family.  Indeed even many of those who likely would have no truck with the United Nations and no love for International Law virtually quote that article word for word every day when they’re arguing about matters of home and family, and probably most of them scarcely even realize it.  When we talk about rights, however precisely or imprecisely, we are talking about things that people feel very deeply about, things that give their lives meaning and purpose.

That quote right there about the family says it.

Now, in ordinary speech as well as the commonplace discourse of journalists and editorialists (“bloggers” too of course), any talk of rights is inevitably amorphous and indicative more of feelings and desires than it is of well-defined or cognizable rights.  So, frequently when someone says that a right has been violated, what he really means is that he has been offended in some way.  In everyday speech, and even in garden-variety “professional” commentary, that is fine—people who are talking casually or writing frequently will resort to such boilerplate, and there is little sense in crying about it—but, if we wish to step away from casual usage, we are likely best served by using the language of rights in two ways: (1) if the right is legally cognizable, then by reference to the authority that defines it or (2) if we are making a case for a right, then by setting out our definitions, argument, and authority.

In his recent article, R.L. Stollar—who graciously invited me to write my reply to him as a guest post—actually used precisely these methods in order to make the case that homeschooling was not a right.  Turning, however, to the authority he used and considering his argument, I have to disagree with his conclusion.

The chief authority Mr. Stollar uses is Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  After the prior sections of that article deal with an individual’s right to an education, what level of education should be mandatory, and some discussion of the social purposes of education, UDHR art. 26(3) states, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

As I noted in my comment to Mr. Stollar’s post, this language both gives a priority to parents in the determination of their children’s education and states it in terms of an act that is compelled: the children shall be educated, and the parents have the prior right to choose the kind of education.  Some portion of Mr.Stollar’s post got bound up in the notion that a human right cannot be controlling over another person, but the very language he quoted seems to dispel that by granting parents what it unambiguously calls a right to make determinations for other human beings (parents choosing for their children).

On top of this, it is not difficult to think of a number of other rights that involve and even require the cooperation, restraint, or compulsion of other human beings.  

I noted the right to counsel in criminal proceedings in my comment on his post.  How about also the right to reasonable working hours (UDHR art. 24), which places limits on how much an employer can demand of his employees and requires him to provide reasonable leave, or the right to one’s reputation (UDHR art. 12), which limits freedom of speech from, say, defamation?  These are just two examples.

Rights place obligations upon the state to vindicate them, but they also often entail a restraint on individual human beings as well as granting the capacity for one human being to impose restraint upon another (as in parents making decisions for their children) or to seek redress for a violation (as when one sues for defamation).

If we want to look to concrete authority to argue whether homeschooling is a right, by the way, why stop with the UDHR?

Both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESC) make favorable reference to the “liberty of parents.”

They, together with the UDHR, belong to that International Bill of Human Rights mentioned above.  Consider the full language of ICESC art. 13 ¶ ¶ 3-4:

3. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

4. No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph I of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

Paragraph 3 states its “respect” for parental liberty in school choice—even choices besides public school—and paragraph 4 puts some teeth to this by forbidding the instrument from being interpreted to interfere with the individual’s liberty to establish educational institutions.  Make of that what you will.

If, then, what remains of the argument against homeschooling being a right comes down to the travel by horse analogy (see Mr. Stollar’s essay for this), then my response is:

Traveling by horse, if you have one, actually is a right, and it falls within the right to freedom of movement.  

Of course it is not a right to take someone else’s horse or to be given a horse, but the right to travel is one primarily cognizable in not being restrained from travel, and surely no state should have the right to stop you, under normal circumstances, from hopping on your horse and going where you will.  Just the same, if a parent has a right to determine his child’s type of education, and, if we are agreed that whatever form of homeschooling we are talking about is a legitimate type of education, then surely the parental right includes the right to school the child at home.

Of course, at some point in narrowing rights down to specific examples, it would become absurd to insist that they all be found in a United Nations convention. But a good many of the things we value as rights (in some proper sense of the word) are actually spelled out in writing in statutes and case law, which constitute an overwhelming number of words and pages.  If there is any uncertainty about whether something should be legally protected—such as the right to school one’s children at home—then off to court one goes, where lawyers will find the citations and make the arguments.

It’s all quite entertaining for pundits and ordinary people to complain about “rights” being violated, but rights don’t mean much of anything in a society of laws until their existence is tested and proven through law. 

Sometimes too, by the way, the universality of a norm is well demonstrated by the states that violate the norm against the greater consensus.  So, however the current business in Germany, for instance, shakes out, and whatever may be adjudicated in the Unites States or anywhere else, for my own part, I just cannot fathom educating one’s children at home as not being a right—or, if you prefer (but I think this is hair-splitting), as squarely fitting within the right to choose the education of one’s children.

We get emotional about our rights.  We get emotional about these homeschooling rights in particular, because, as with any human liberty, they are subject to abuse, and by “abuse” I mean to say the kinds of acts that take us squarely outside the realm of rights.  The abuses of homeschooling are famous in the portion of the blogosphere where I am writing now.  And then there is the hazy realm of, let’s call it, “indoctrination”: why, with some of the more scandalous examples of homeschooling, what sorts of things are they teaching those children!  A false history or poor science or just a pathological contempt for this segment of society or that or for society on the whole, perhaps?

Let’s don’t forget, though, even when children go to public schools, their primary role models remain their parents.  Even when children go through their rebellious phases, reckon themselves independent and free-thinking as adolescents will do, if they live in a home with parents, their parents are their principal models of how life is.  Their chief guides, even if the parents don’t know it or don’t want it.  No one can jack you up worse early in life than mom and dad, and nobody can guide and protect you better either.

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society.  

That’s not just legal jargon, and it’s not just amorphous “rights” language.  It’s the fundamental reality of parents and their children.

The Mutterpass: Motherhood, Healthcare, and Homeschooling in Germany

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The Mutterpass: Motherhood, Healthcare, and Homeschooling in Germany, By Jennifer Stahl

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on September 26, 2013 with the title, “German Homeschooling Cases – Things to consider.”

One of the arguments that I keep hearing from family, friends and acquaintances in North America and other English-speaking areas of the world about home-schooling in Germany is: “Homeschooling should not be regulated! Parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit! Should officials be doing welfare checks on babies and toddlers to make sure that they are well cared for?”

I usually stammer a bit and try to explain that things are just so different here with German culture vs. American or Canadian culture. With the healthcare system that we have, women who are prenatal and postnatal are well cared for and children are seen as an investment and something that the entire “village” should protect.

It all starts when you get your first positive pregnancy test.

No, really. It does.

First, you get your pregnancy test at the apothecary. It will not be available elsewhere, because that is strictly behind-the-counter stuff. You’ll be advised by the nice people at the apothecary that if it is positive, to contact your OB/GYN, and if you don’t have one, to contact your Hausarzt (The General Practitioner that you’re seeing), and get a referral to a good OB/GYN.

You pop out the pregnancy test and without a doubt, it’s positive. You might take another, but it too is positive. “Well, we’re having a baby!”  Or, whatever variation of that which was said in your home.

The next step is simple.

You contact your Hausarzt for the referral to an OB/GYN, or, you contact your friends really quickly and find out who is the best in the area. Then, you call and say “(Appropriate time of day greeting here)! My name is ________ from __________; and I just took a pregnancy test and it’s positive. Last missed period was on ________.” And before you can say “OK,” they’ve already hauled out the appointment book and are squeezing you in right away.

When the appointment date arrives, you will be given the almighty “Mutterpass“.

This is a mother’s passport and will remain with you your entire pregnancy and through to your postnatal checkups. This is your copy of your medical records. All appointments will be logged here, your test results on any blood tests or other tests that need to be done, how you’re measuring, and all ultrasounds.

 The Mutterpass has information that contains all relevant data on the health of the mother, such as blood group; iron content in the blood, test results for hereditary – and infectious diseases (hepatitis B , HIV , rubella); the condition of the child — such as position, weight, size, etc. up to the birth;  and the expected date of birth. Even after the child is born, some important facts about the child, and the postpartum follow-up of the mother, (6-8 weeks after birth), is recorded in the Mutterpass. In an emergency, Doctors have all this information and are able to respond faster.

The mother passport has 16 pages. Each (double) page deals with various aspects of the health of mother and child.
Familienplannung.de [Tons of information here, including what is found in the Mutterpass] See also: Rund ums Baby and this PDF, which have example pages of what is in the Mutterpass.

Due to the length of my post today, I did want to share TheLocal.de‘s wonderful series “Motherhood in the Fatherland”. I know that sharing these posts seems like a lot of reading. I tend to over-share in this area, so I’d rather spare those details and let Sabine walk you through the process. Sabine has a tendency to walk one through all the fun steps of culture shock while maintaining an “Oh, right, this is how this works.”

Prior to choosing where you will give birth, your next choice is what midwife will be attending you for all your postnatal and breastfeeding needs.

Once you’ve secured her (usually a her, or so I’ve been told), you will have a visit or two to get to know each other, fill out medical information and share who your doctor is so that they can work together. You’ll also hand over your insurance card so that s/he can be paid on time for all the hard work that will be done.

Usually the midwife visits only a few times over the course of a couple of months to assess whether or not your child is growing adequately, you’re bonding well, or if you have PPD or other complications. She will also work with your OB/GYN on doing examinations at home, at a time that things are still very delicate, and you won’t be wanting to sit in the car or on waiting room chairs. She’ll ensure that your uterus is, indeed, going back to normal size, that it is functioning as it should, and that things are healing nicely.

After giving birth, you’ll spend some time recuperating. Birth is hard, messy business and it takes a while to bounce back. Most mothers will be off of work for at least a few months, but usually an entire year, or longer.

Mothers in Germany will receive “Elterngeld“, which will basically help with those extra needs that crop up when you have a little one join your life.

Parental leave is rather generous, allowing fathers to even take as many as fourteen weeks off from work to help his wife or partner out. There have been a few recent news articles discussing the generous leave and stipends to stay at home that are given to new mothers:

“We have this expression, ‘rabenmutter’, which doesn’t even exist in other languages. ‘Ravenmother’. It means a bad mother and a woman who works is often considered a ‘rabenmutter’ in Germany.”
Is the German insult ‘Raven mothers’ holding back women at work?

The federal government passed a law late last year introducing a monthly childcare supplement of €100 to €150… which translates roughly to “money with which to care for someone.” It’s expected to cost the government €1.2 billion each year.
As of August, this supplement will be paid to parents of children aged three and under who are not in a state-subsidized daycare.
German childcare allowance raises questions about working moms

…women who are both underemployed and underpaid. German women work fewer hours than women in most other OECD countries (see chart). The gap in median pay is the third-widest in the club, after South Korea’s and Japan’s. That is partly because mothers stay at home. In 2008 just 18% of children under the age of three were in formal child care, against an OECD average of 30%.
German family policy – Pay to stay at home

…On average, a mother of one takes three years off, a mother of two up to seven years off and even then only goes back to work part-time…
With child care this good and affordable, what is it that’s keeping German mothers out of the workplace? …School often finishes at midday, it’s hard to find any job that fits this schedule.” … “There’s also a culture of mothers not working,” another mother added, “and those who do might get called a Rabenmutter.” That’s a raven mother – one who doesn’t care about her children.
The reluctant hausfrau: being a German mother

After having our first check-up with the pediatrician at the hospital of our choice, we learned rather quickly, that your children also get a copy of their medical records in an “U-heft” (Untersuchungsheft: children’s examination folder) which is also known as a “Gelbes Heft” (Yellow folder). This will house all copies of medical data from the child’s birth, through their eighteenth year. Like the Mutterpass, it is advised you take it and the Impfpass  [vaccination passport] along if you go on a trip anywhere, especially out of the country.

Prior to moving to Germany, in 2005, a law was passed in several Länder (German states) that made these check-ups legally binding, and prosecutable if you miss them.

Originally, there were ten checkups mandated, but this has changed in the last year or so with several additional check-ups added to the folder and us being told we will have additional appointments.

Children’s preventative checkups are to ensure that defects and diseases… especially those which endanger the normal physical and mental development of the child … are recognized quickly by a pediatrician, early enough to initiate appropriate therapy. At the same time studies are carried out to document cases of neglect , abandonment , child abuse or sexual abuse…

Since the early seventies there were, in the Federal Republic of Germany, ten statutory checkups for children and adolescents, but not all parents were taking their children to these voluntary health checks.
Due to the appalling cases of child neglect – and child abuse…  Experts in child and youth services, child protection, physicians, doctors and many politicians began demanding federally regulated, legally mandatory, screenings for all German children.

  “We have revised all mandatory checkups from the U1 to J2,” Hartmann said. The questionnaires that doctors will fill out with feedback from the parents, will in future, explore various risk factors [for example in the areas of exercise, nutrition, media consumption and parent-child interaction.]
Barmer und Kinderärzte starten neue Kindervorsorge­untersuchungen

We received the following letter in 2008:

Ladies and gentlemen, dear parents,
On the 1st of January 2008, the Hessian Child Health Protection Act came into force in Hessen. The pediatric check-ups (U1, U2, U3, U4, U5, U6, U7, U7a, U8, U9) have become mandatory by this law. To ensure that all check-ups, beginning with U4 have been conducted to U9, the …Hessian children’s care center based at the University Hospital of Frankfurt is responsible. . .
Hessisches Kindervorsorgezentrum

We ended up with three or four additional check-ups, leaving us with about fifteen or so before our children will be 18. So, double that, and we’ll be in the doctor’s office at least thirty-odd times in twenty years of being parents, barring illnesses that have us in more frequently.

One of the more frequent arguments I hear from my friends and acquaintances in the US are summed up very well by Hermana Linda at Why Not Train a Child?

My opinion is that parents are responsible for their children, the state is not. I do not believe that the state should take charge of children unless there is a dire circumstance such as obvious abuse. I do not believe that the state should be checking on children in order to make sure that they are not being abused. . .
It is just as easy, if not easier, to abuse a child before they reach school age. So, if we’re going to worry about school aged children being abused, why not worry about pre-school aged children being abused..?
Why Not Regulate Homeschoolers?

Well, as you can see, Germany doesn’t work like the United States or Canada. Nope, not at all.

Children are not only part of their family, but part of a wider, well-networked village.

Also unlike the United States, Germany has outlawed punitive discipline — you get the picture. Some areas are more granola than others, but, for the most part, Germany is very protective of mothers and children. It is also very proactive with health issues, and looking to stamp out and educate parents on how to prevent child abuse.

Germany has no separation of church and state like the United States, so it is expected that you will likely be religious, and additionally have the support network of your local church, synagogue or mosque.

If you do not, groups like CaritasDiakonie, and such are available to you, and you will be informed by your midwife about something like MOPS that is available from your local church, as well as about 100 different types of “Mommy and me” activities.

With the check-ups in place, there has been a decrease in reported abuse cases. Sadly, I cannot find these numbers at the moment, but I trust one of my German readers will know where I can find that again. I’d lost my laptop at the beginning of the year, which means I lost a vast mess of data from my old favorites, which included all of this.

I’ve had friends who argue, “With all these precautions, how could anyone educate at home?” — People do it all the time. Generally speaking, those people are either celebrities, government officials, parents who move frequently or parents of children with illnesses that necessitate schooling at home or in a hospital. It’s done every day.

I believe, if we could take care of the issue of curriculum and ensuring that parents are well supported, that education at home could be possible. My line of thinking is quite similar to what was blogged at Homeschooling’s Invisible Children today:

We do not want to do away with homeschooling… We would simply like to see convicted child abusers or sex offenders barred from homeschooling, light monitoring when families with a previous history of neglect or abuse begin homeschooling, and yearly academic assessments (via standardized test or portfolio review) to ensure that families who claim to be homeschooling are not doing so to hide abuse rather than to educate their children.

I believe that if the government could work with the families who are already schooling at home, they could come to some sort of agreement.

Well, that is my hope. We’ll see what is decided as more proceedings go through the court system, what is decided for the future of the German educational system.

I Love Homeschooling, But Homeschooling Is Not A Human Right

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I Love Homeschooling, But Homeschooling Is Not A Human Right, By R.L. Stollar


Let’s get a few things out of the way first.

First, I generally enjoyed being homeschooled from K-12. Homeschooling is no panacea, but it was a generally positive experience for me personally. Second, I am all about human rights. Since studying human rights theories in high school and college for academic debate, I have desired to understand human rights, understand how to promote them, and defend others when their rights are being attacked.

Third and finally, I am not a fan of Germany’s almost-ban on homeschooling. (“Almost-ban” because Germany does, in fact, allow homeschooling for families of sick children or families that travel significantly.) As an American and a former homeschooler, it rubs me the wrong way.


But Germany’s almost-ban on homeschooling is not a violation of the fundamental, human right to homeschool. Because there is no such human right. It does not exist.

There is no fundamental, human right to homeschool, peoples.

Now before you raise the pitchforks, throw the stones, and shout “Kill the beast!,” hear me out. And while you hear me out, re-read the three things I started with. When I say there is no fundamental, human right to homeschool, I say that as (1) a fan of homeschooling, (2) a human rights advocate, and (3) a critic of their almost-ban on homeschooling.

So put down those pitchforks and stones and save “Kill the beast” for a Disney movie and let’s talk about some basic human rights theory.

Defining Human Rights

Human rights are things — usually freedoms — that are guaranteed to you simply because you are a human. 

These rights assume that every human being — whether male, female, adult, child, gay, straight, black, white, and so forth — is a moral and rational being who deserves dignity and respect. Because of this, these rights are universal. Whether or not the government that you live under chooses to respect these rights, you still have them. They are indivisible.

There have been many articulations of rights people have — ranging from the Magna Carta to the Bill of Rights. Each of these articulations have dealt with different types of rights — natural, civil, and so forth. The concept of human rights arose after World War II and the Holocaust. When the United Nations was created in 1945, governments wanted to create a contract between each other to avoid similar international horrors in the future. The result of this was the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. It delineated thirty fundamental rights that people everywhere should be guaranteed.

You can read a simplified version of the thirty rights from the UDHR here, or the full text of the UDHR here. What you will observe in the declaration are universal concepts of ethics: no slavery, no torture, no unfair detainment, the right to privacy, freedom to move, freedom of expression, right to education, and so forth.

Classifying Human Rights

Now you might wonder, What qualifies a right to be a “human” right?

This is a highly debatable matter, and people everywhere — including human rights theorists — disagree on this all the time. But most people agree with either one of the following two key frameworks:

(1) International, high priority, and require robust justification

Human rights are both international and high-priority norms that require robust justifications that apply everywhere and support their high priority. They need to be so international and so high-priority so that they can actually be justified as binding on every nation everywhere in relationship to every single human being. They need to transcend cultural diversity and national sovereignty.

This is why in most human rights treaties and declarations you see abstract and universal concepts rather than precise particulars. We can all — theoretically — agree that freedom of speech is a human right. But what about the freedom to make porn? That is a very specific freedom that will not hold up against the standard of cultural diversity and national sovereignty. The more specific you get in defining a human right, the less binding it is.

(2) Universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated

The four main standards for what are human rights are (1) universality (applies to all human beings), (2) indivisibility (inherent to human beings qua human beings), (3) interdependency (each right depends on the others), and (4) interrelatedness (each right enhances the other rights). Put together, this means that “all rights are equally important and necessary in creating a strong and healthy society.”

If a particular right is not as equally important and necessary as other rights in creating a strong and healthy society, then it is not a human right. It can be a civil right or a political good or a privilege, but it is not a human right.

Freedom of Movement Versus Freedom to Move By Horse

Let us look at a particular example: freedom of movement.

Freedom of movement is a human right.

What are some ways in which one could move? You could move by foot, by car, by train, by boat, by plane, by horse, and so many other ways.

Is travel by horse a human right?

No. Freedom of movement is a human right. But movement by horse is not a human right. Protecting the former is an international high priority. Protecting the latter is not. Furthermore, protecting movement by horse would be protecting a particular vehicle for achieving a general right, but not the general right itself.

It is the same with homeschooling.

The right to education and the right to educational freedom are both human rights, according to Article 26 of the UDHR:

Everyone has a right to education… Elementary education shall be compulsory… It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups… Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

What are some ways in which one could educate or be educated? You could be educated by public schools, private schools, home schools, tutors, co-ops, and so many other ways.

Is education by homeschooling a human right?

Like travel by horse, homeschooling is not a human right. But like freedom of movement, educational freedom is.

Furthermore, you must keep in mind that human rights are inherent to individuals as individuals.

You cannot have a human right to another individual.

So while one can argue that homeschooling should be considered a parental right, it cannot be a human right because no individual has human rights to another person. You have the human right of movement, but not the human right to make another person move.

This is the inherent balance contained within Article 26: the right of a child to an education, and the right of a parent to follow his or her conscience regarding their child’s education. These need to be balanced. So if homeschooling has a potential to interfere with the human right to an education (of the child), then it cannot itself be a human right.

One can certainly argue that homeschooling is such an important vehicle for preserving the human right of educational freedom, that banning homeschooling is a violation of educational freedom. But educational freedom is the human right, not homeschooling.

Human Rights Inflation

To say homeschooling is the human right confuses and conflates categories.

But it does more than confuse and conflate. It also inflates. A vital aspect of human rights as international policy is that the list of human rights — as stated in treaties — has currency. In other words, the stated human rights actually mean something. So when one country violates them, other countries are rightly in an uproar. Violate freedom of religion and that is a big deal.

The more “rights” you add to the list of human rights, the less that list means.

It loses currency. Once you start adding things like “right to travel by bus,” “right to travel by car,” “right to travel by donkey,” “right to travel by cat,” it diminishes the impact and value of “right TO freely move from one place to another.”

This is called human rights inflation.

What HSLDA and other likeminded homeschool advocates are pushing for, this adding of homeschooling to the list of human rights, is guilty of that very thing.

They are contributing to human rights inflation. They are not alone, mind you. This is a problem that human rights theorists and politicians and international policy experts have wrestled with for years now. According to Foreign Affairs, there is “a gross inflation in the number of human rights treaties and nonbinding international instruments adopted by international organizations over the last several decades.” This is because “Human rights once enshrined the most basic principles of human freedom and dignity; today, they can include anything.”

Why this is a problem is succinctly expressed by the Spectator:

[When people translate] any and all grievances and demands into the language of ‘rights’, they are causing an inflation of the whole concept… The result is that at some point there will be a collapse of the whole system… If living in a one-bedroom flat is now to suffer a fundamental human-rights abuse, how [does one] get remotely exercised about the gassing of children or the desolation of whole nations?

Please Stop Calling Homeschooling a Human Right

As much as I value homeschooling and dislike Germany’s almost-ban on it, I consider it fundamentally irresponsible to set forth homeschooling as a human right. Just, no. No, no, no. I do not say this because I hate homeschooling. I would say this same thing about any number of other thinkers and advocates who set forth particular vehicles for achieving general rights as actual rights themselves. This does a disservice to rights language and only serves to undermine the vehicles one wants to protect.

If HSLDA and other likeminded homeschool advocates want to champion the actual human right of educational freedom, then by all means — go for it.

HSLDA, champion the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 26.

Champion all aspects of that declaration and all aspects of that Article’s expressed human right, including compulsory education. Champion the child’s right to receive a good education. And also champion the parent’s right to direct what sort of education a child gets. But you cannot pick one part of a human right and then disregard the other parts.

Article 26 is about the right to education and the right to educational freedom. It is not about homeschooling.

Saying otherwise is how you play cultural warrior, not how you play human rights advocate.