Ken Cuccinelli, HSLDA, and Identification Abuse

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is a homeschooling father and long-time political favorite of homeschooling leaders.

He has keynoted for Generation Joshua, HSLDA’s youth mobilization organization. And to return the favor, 200 Generation Joshua participants — funded by HSLDA’s political action committee — launched “an early deployment to work with the Cuccinelli campaign [for the Virginia Governorship]” in 2013. This deployment was codenamed “Operation: Shock and Awe” and paired with a Mission Impossible-themed video:

HSLDA’s support of Cuccinelli has a long history. In 2002, HSLDA founder Michael Farris officially endorsed his campaign for the Virginia State Senate. Farris declared that, “I fully endorse Ken and hope that those who believe that standing for principle is the only practical way to preserve our Republic will support him enthusiastically.” In 2012, Farris’s Patrick Henry College invited Cuccinelli to deliver the commencement address.

It is curious to note, therefore, that HSLDA favorite Ken Cuccinelli has publicly spoken out in favor of denying children identification documents.

The recent situation with homeschool alumna Alecia Pennington, who has struggled to prove her American identity and citizenship because of identification abuse, highlights just how problematic such a position is. But as recently as 2010, Cuccinelli gave a speech saying he was considering not getting his newest child a Social Security card because the government uses such cards to “to track you.” He also claimed this was becoming a more popular decision.

You can watch the video below:

Text of the video is:

We’re gonna have our 7th child on Monday, if he’s not born before. And, for the very concerns you state, we’re actually considering – as I’m sure many of you here didn’t get a Social Security number when you were born, they do it now – we’re considering not doing that. And a lot of people are considering that now, because it is being used to track you.

Interestingly, HSLDA recently declared that they would provide assistance to any homeschool alumni who are battling the very situation into which Cuccinelli was considering putting his own son (and encouraging others to put their own children into as well). They also declared they knew of no alumni actually in such situations. In a public statement made on their Facebook page, HSLDA declared the following:

HSLDA Senior Counsel Jim Mason learned of Alecia’s story soon after her video was posted. He contacted her and offered to help. As of this time, Alecia has not taken HSLDA up on the offer. We understand that conflicts between parents and their adult children can be complicated, and that we likely do not know all of the facts in Alecia’s situation. But we do support homeschool graduates’ right to have an identity, get a job, and fully participate in society. In over 30 years of defending homeschoolers, we have never seen allegations like the ones in this situation. We encourage homeschool graduates who encounter problems with documentation, diploma validation issues, or discrimination in employment or postsecondary education to contact us for assistance. We want to help if we can.

As the public cases of Alecia Pennington, Cynthia Jeub, and Eleanor Skelton demonstrate, denying or witholding identification documents from one’s children creates significant problems for homeschool alumni. It is also sadly not uncommon. According to HARO’s 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement, out of 3703 respondents, 3.65% (or 135 respondents) experienced some form of identification abuse. Numerous testimonies from homeschool alumni denied identification documents can be seen at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s website.

According to HARO’s recent 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling,

The problem of identification abuse disproportionately impacts individuals who identify as female; this disproportionate impact seems to correlate with families adhering to the ideology of Christian patriarchy, as numerous stories of identification abuse reference gender roles and the stay-at-home-daughter movement. Furthermore, the most common reason for parents withholding an adult child’s identification documents is control: control of the adult child and that adult child’s future decisions.

It is irresponsible of Cuccinelli to put his child in such a situation, and HSLDA — if they are going to live up to their promise to help alumni suffering from identification abuse — needs to publicly condemn such a position. As HARO’s 2015 survey concluded,

Membership in HSLDA does not protect against identification abuse. This should highlight to not only HSLDA as a homeschool movement leader, but also HARO as an advocacy organization as well as all homeschooling communities, that awareness and education about the importance of procuring identification documents for one’s children is vitally important. That importance should be communicated from all levels of homeschooling power structures. Such structures should also encourage families to procure such documentation. The future health and well-being of homeschool alumni depends on it.

A Quick and Dirty Primer on HSLDA

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A Quick and Dirty Primer on HSLDA, By Kathryn Brightbill

Kathryn Brightbill blogs at The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person.

Did you find your way to Homeschoolers Anonymous because of the press coverage of the Wunderlich and Twelve Tribes cases in Germany? Or did the Romeike case in the United States send you hunting for more info on this HSLDA group that keeps showing up in news stories?

Then this story is for you.

It is in no way meant to be exhaustive, just to provide basic information for people who did not grow up in the homeschooling world and are unfamiliar with HSLDA’s activism.

Early Days

HSLDA was founded by Michael Farris in 1983. At that time, homeschooling as a movement was in its infancy, and because parents were concerned about the legality, the idea of a legal defense and advocacy organization dedicated to homeschooling was an attractive one.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, HSLDA was involved in liberalizing the homeschooling laws in states across the US, mobilizing homeschoolers to bombard their legislators with phone calls, telegrams in the early days, faxes, and emails. During this time period most of the restrictions and regulations on homeschooling were removed so that in many states there is now minimal oversight of homeschooling families to ensure that children are receiving an education.

In 1991, HSLDA went international with the formation of HSLDA Canada.

A turning point came in 1994 when HSLDA used the power of its network of homeschooling parents to fight against H.R. 6, a federal bill that said that non-public schools applying for federal funds must have teachers certified in the subject matter in which they teach. For reasons that are not entirely clear since the bill was about non-public schools that received federal money—an issue completely unrelated to homeschooling, HSLDA decided that H.R. 6 meant that the federal government would require homeschoolers to be certified teachers. Although many other homeschool leaders disagreed with HSLDA’s analysis and did not see any threat to homeschooling in the bill, nevertheless, HSLDA mobilized tens of thousands of homeschoolers to contact congress and in the process discovered just how powerful a political network they had built.

HSLDA Branches Out: Non-homeschool-related activities

When you are an organization that is run by conservative members of the religious right (Farris was an attorney with Concerned Women for America who fought against the Equal Rights Amendment, former HSLDA attorney Doug Phillips is the son of Constitution Party presidential candidate and former Nixon administration member Howard Phillips, to give a few examples), and you have built a powerful grassroots network that will do your bidding, the temptation to limit your work to homeschooling is evidently too great to resist.

Coming on the heels of the H.R. 6 fight in 1994, HSLDA touts their involvement in killing the US ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a human rights treaty.

The only UN member states that have not ratified CEDAW are Iran, Palau, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tonga, and the United States.

In 1995, HSLDA took a case in Virginia, In re Brianna, where the parents were charged with neglect for refusing to vaccinate their child. HSLDA successfully argued that the parents should be given a religious exemption from providing childhood vaccinations to their child. HSLDA’s timeline of events does not indicate that this case had any connection to homeschooling.

In a case where the only relationship to homeschooling was that the party involved was a former homeschooler, HSLDA and Michael Farris took on the case of Michael New, a soldier who refused to wear a UN beret as part of United Nations peacekeeping actions. In a 1995 Court Report cover story, the case was described as, “Michael New v. the New World Order,” a reference to fundamentalist Christian beliefs about the End Times and the United Nations as ushering in a one world government that would lead to the rise of the antichrist.

In 1997, a constitutional amendment drafted by HSLDA, the “American Sovereignty Amendment, H.J.R. 83,” was introduced by Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth (R-ID). The amendment, which did not go anywhere, would have changed the Constitution so that treaties were no longer on the same level as the US Constitution. The text of the amendment is not available online, but it is evident from HSLDA’s own description that it would have had significant effects on the United States’ ability to meet its treaty obligations.

By 2003, HSLDA decided to organize young homeschool students into Generation Joshua to create a generation of young, politically active kids who could provide the manpower on the ground in conservative political campaigns. Generation Joshua was designed to build a second generation of kids to carry forth the culture war battles of their parents.

In 2004, despite the fact that it has not even the slimmest connection to homeschooling, HSLDA backed a constitutional amendment to ban both same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Another way that HSLDA expanded their reach beyond homeschooling was with the 2007 launch of ParentalRights.org, an advocacy organization devoted to expanding parental rights free from government interference. This includes advocating for a Parental Rights Amendment that would subject all laws relating to parental decisions on the upbringing, care, and education of their children to the highest level of judicial scrutiny, a standard that is extremely difficult to overcome, and which would remove almost all legal protections from children.

HSLDA was also instrumental in blocking United States ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, despite the fact that the treaty mirrors the Americans with Disabilities Act.

On the treaty front, HSLDA has also led the fight against the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Among their objections to the treaty is that it would prevent minors from being sentenced to life in prison—something that the international community agrees is unacceptable but that the US still practices. They also object to the fact that the convention uses the best interest of the child standard in determining matters involving children, even though the best interest of the child standard is the guiding standard in American family law already. Furthermore, they oppose the idea that children should have a right to be heard in decisions relating to their interests.

The only countries that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States. HSLDA bears much of the responsibility for America’s failure to ratify the treaty.

HSLDA and Abuse

Starting from 1992 on, HSLDA’s timeline lists their involvement in an increasing number of cases where homeschool families were accused of child abuse unrelated to homeschooling itself. Further, HSLDA’s timeline credits their work with member families in defeating Virginia Senate Bill 621, a bill that did not involve homeschooling but rather the standard of proof in child abuse investigations.

They also brag on their timeline about their role in killing a 1997 bill in New Hampshire that would have defined isolation of children as a form of abuse, because they believe it could apply to homeschoolers. This certainly suggests that HSLDA believes that some homeschool parents isolate their children to the point that a bill designed to protect children from abuse would apply, and thinks this is okay.

This is particularly relevant given the accusations against the Wunderlich family—HSLDA says that the family wasn’t abusive, but HSLDA doesn’t think that extreme isolation is abuse.

In his 1996 novel, Anonymous Tip, a story intended to dramatize the position that Child Protective Services are a threat to families, Michael Farris repeatedly has his protagonists insist that spankings that leave bruises are not necessarily evidence of abuse.

For more on HSLDA’s handling of child abuse cases, see Libby Anne’s extensive documentation on HSLDA and abuse, including their fight against child abuse reporting, the time they called a man who caged his children a “hero”, and their opposition to Florida’s proposed law that would have defined leaving bruises and welts on children as abuse.

This is not to say that HSLDA supports child abuse. As Libby Anne explains, it is entirely possible to abhor abuse while still taking actions that end up protecting abusers.

Michael Farris’ other non-homeschooling activism

An overview of HSLDA would be incomplete without noting at least some of Michael Farris’ other activism during his time with HSLDA. In addition to an unsuccessful 1994 run for Lt. Governor of Virginia, Farris was the founder of the Madison Project, a political action committee that bundles small donations in support of right wing candidates. Furthermore, his support of right wing candidates extended to backing John Ashcroft for President in 1998 and Mike Huckabee in 2008 (chastising other leaders of the right for not backing Huckabee sooner), and has mobilized Generation Joshua in support of Ken Cucinelli’s run for governor of Virginia.

As already mentioned, before founding HSLDA, Farris worked with Concerned Women For America in fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment that would have guaranteed equal constitutional rights for women. Also in the early 1980s, he worked with the Moral Majority in Washington state to try to get sex education materials removed from libraries.

Farris has also taken to fighting other broader culture war issues after the founding of HSLDA. Writing an amicus brief on behalf of Patrick Henry College in the Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop. 8) United States Supreme Court case, he argued that if the government recognized marriage between two people of the same sex it would make it harder for Patrick Henry College to continue with their current (discriminatory) policies.

More recently, he spoke at the founding meeting of Trail Life, USA, the scouting group that was formed as an alternative to the Boy Scouts after the Boy Scouts stopped kicking gay kids out of the Scouts. The head of the Trail Life organization has gone on record stating that he believes that parents accepting their gay children is a form of child abuse. Farris, for his part, seems to agree with the head of Trail Life that gay children should be subjected to reparative therapy, a form of therapy condemned by every major psychiatric organization because it is psychologically harmful to the point of being abusive.

In Conclusion

While HSLDA may have started as a homeschooling advocacy organization, over time they have shifted and expanded their focus, fighting against international treaties, expanded child abuse legislation, and fighting for broader religious right causes. They are an organization founded and led by religious right activists who treat homeschooling as yet another front in the ongoing culture wars.

Homeschool Confidential: Leaving Generation Joshua

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

*****

“Generation Joshua wants America to be a perpetual city on a hill, a beacon of biblical hope to the world around us.  We seek to inspire every one of our members with faith in God and a hope of what America can become as we equip Christian citizens and leaders to impact our nation for Christ and for His glory.”

~ William A. Estrada, Esq., Director of Generation Joshua

*****

The story that follows is a cautionary tale.

It is the story of a generation, overwhelmed and frightened by the 1960’s and 70’s, that wanted to create an isolated bubble in which to raise kids untouched by the chaos and depravity of the American world. It is the story of a generation that partied so hard that, ashamed of its doings, wanted its progeny to not do the things it did. It is a story of how you can so easily throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water — or, put another way, how babies always grow up and have to make their own decisions, no matter how hard their parents try to avoid that day.

***

This story is not meant to antagonize people, though it will surely antagonize many. It is not meant to attack anyone, but it will involve some serious disagreements. This story is first and foremost a personal statement of my personal experience — my experience of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling subculture in which I grew up.

I didn’t just grow up in the subculture. I was one of its most outspoken advocates and champions. I wasn’t merely a conservative, Christian homeschooler. I was raised and groomed to be a model for its tenets, an inspiration for my peers, and someone who trained my peers to also be advocates and champions.

I have struggled most of my life with sorting through everything I experienced as a homeschooler. Not the education, mind you — I can read, think, write, speak, and debate. But as I have been increasingly dealing with major depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and all sorts of other problems, I have been reflecting on my childhood. And I realize that the pressures put on me by the conservative, Christian homeschooling subculture have contributed significantly to my problems today.

It’s not the conservatism or the Christianity or the homeschooling, per se. It’s not my family. But it’s the combination of everything and especially my years in the homeschool speech and debate league that made me who I am. And lately I’ve been talking to other people who went through the same things. And I am starting to see patterns. I am starting to hear stories. Stories of pressure, control, self-hating, self-harming, and even abuse — emotional, physical, and sexual.

I am starting to hear that I am not alone in my problems.

Everyone, of course, has a different experience, even those who were homeschooled. Some of us were in the Home School Legal Defense Association. Some of us did speech and debate, while others did Teen Pact or Teen Mania. Some of us did Creation Science seminars; others did not. Some of us grew up in Quiverfull homes, or homes dedicated to Josh Harris’ model of courtship, or even betrothal homes. Some of us were allowed to date. We all have different experiences. Some of us are atheists now, or agnostics, or Buddhists, or still Christians. Some of us are liberal; others are conservative.

But there is a pattern emerging. And that pattern has a story that needs to be told.

***

What you might not know about conservative, Christian homeschoolers is that we are actually a smart bunch. Unlike the completely ridiculous cultural stereotype, many of us received more than adequate socialization. We had park days, sports teams, missions trips, and political rallies. We had drama clubs and the Bible verse memorization club AWANA — but more than that, many of us were in speech and debate leagues, moot court, summer camps dedicated to worldview training, and all sorts of other activities meant to make us articulate defenders and proponents of our beliefs.

We were, in fact, probably able to school our secular peers in argumentation and public speaking. And that was no coincidence. There is a vast, well-organized machine that yearly churns out advocates of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling viewpoint.  We were part of the so-called “Generation Joshua,” the new generation meant to reclaim America for the glory of the Christian god.

To my subculture, Generation Joshua means two things. First, it is a Christian youth organization founded in 2003 by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), created to train children to be activists for conservative candidates who support pro-life and otherwise socially conservative platforms. But more importantly, Generation Joshua is a metaphor. It is a rallying cry based on a jumbled amalgam of biblical stories with the purpose of inspiring conservative parents and their kids.

In the Old Testament, the Egyptians held the Israelites in captivity. The Hebrew God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of captivity and into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But the Israelites and Moses disobeyed God on numerous occasions, so God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, banning them from ever entering the Promised Land. But God had compassion on them, and chose a member of the next generation, Joshua, to lead the Israelites’ children into that land of milk and honey.

While this story is considered by academics and exegetes to be a straightforward historical narrative, conservative Christians have transformed it into a metaphor for the United States. In this metaphor, the Israelites are U.S. citizens. The U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, but the forces of secularism have held us in captivity as the U.S. progressed. So God — now the God of Republican, conservative Christians — chose homeschooling parents to lead the U.S. away from its godlessness and back to its Christian roots. But the parents were once part of that secularism, so God will not allow them to see the fruits of their labor. God has nonetheless shown compassion towards their efforts, so the parents’ children are the new Joshuas. These children are to be trained in God’s original plan for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and they will grow up to invade all levels of the U.S. government and society and reclaim the U.S. for Republican, conservative Christianity.

To this end, all aspects of a homeschooled child’s life are to be tailored to this vision. Every effort is made to ensure that the children become full-fledged advocates of this viewpoint. You see, many conservatives fear one thing almost more than everything else, including Bill Clinton and abortion: that their kids will grow up and disagree with them. There is an enormous apparatus in place to prevent that calamity. There are books, videos, seminars, and camps dedicated to keep kids in line with their parents’ ideology. One of the most talked about and feared statistics every year is how many kids gave up on their parents’ beliefs once they go off to college. This statistic will go viral everywhere. It will terrify parents, reinforce their mission, and inspire them to push and brainwash harder, faster, stronger. You don’t want to be that parent — the parent with the bad seed, the apostate.

It can be a major embarrassment and shame or alienate parents or families out of their long-trusted circles. “The family that has the atheist kid?” Or, “The family that has that girl who got pregnant?” “Surely they raised their kid wrong. Let’s not associate with them anymore.”

It kills relationships.

To be clear, there are many kind, sincere, and well-meaning members of this subculture. There are parents who believe and know they can offer their children a better education than public schools; or who withdraw their kids due to personal handicaps, bullying, or other real and serious complications; or who are capable of teaching their kids to think for themselves instead of merely indoctrinating them.

That I am even writing this is itself a testament to both homeschooling as well as the power of human experience to triumph over human doctrine. I can read, write, reflect, and self-reflect. Much of that is due to a good education.

Much more, however, is due to the continual wrestling my mind had to do with everything in homeschooling that is not education — the attitudes, culture, worldview, and underlying biases that often are more important to homeschooling than the education itself. If homeschooling in a conservative, Christian environment was merely a parent rather than a publicly licensed stranger teaching me 1+1=2, I would not be writing this.  But I am writing this, and that is because, where I grew up, 1+1=2 because God is a protestant Christian deity who wants us to reclaim a fallen United States of America for His glory.

***

As I slowly and painfully extricated myself from this world in which I grew up, I felt very alone. But the more I broke free and was willing to not just admit to others my differences in opinion but admit to myself I was changing (often the harder task, as I still fear that maybe I am wrong and thereby will be burned alive for eternity in God’s hell fire), I found that I was not alone. I would hear from increasingly large numbers of my peers, my former students, and even my former teachers that they, too, had or are trying to break free.

I had always been a rabble-rouser in homeschooling circles, but one from within being self-critical. So I am not unfamiliar with making waves and being chastised. So to take a significant, real break from this community is terrifying. But once I finally took a stand, I realized — sometimes, someone just needs to have the courage to say what others have been hoping to hear.

I think, for a lot of us, we are afraid to say what we feel, to say that we have changed. A lot of our subculture’s message to us was to shut up and get in line. That makes us, even as adults, fearful of a former community’s backlash. We have stuffed our questions and our seeds of discontent for so long that remaining silent has become a habit. Even as adults, we have that inner child who is terrified of saying, “Hey, I’m don’t want to be like that. I want to grow up. I want to have my own beliefs. I want to be my own human being.”

The fact is — I am my own human being. And I always was. I just was raised to not think that way. And I have witnessed with my own eyes, ears, body, and heart so much pain that comes from not acknowledging I am my own person. And I have heard of so many others’ pain. So I cannot keep silent any longer. I will no longer keep my mouth shut and I will no longer play the games of this strange world. While I do not oppose homeschooling in theory, how I have seen it practiced in many ways demands a reckoning.

From the Quiverfull movement to the betrothal/courtship mentality to Generation Joshua and the dominionist attitudes of HSLDA, there are many survivors who — like myself — are trying to put their selves’ pieces back together. We are slowly but surely standing together to make our voices heard. I want the world to hear our stories and I want to give hope to those who are still immersed in this subculture. There is a way to break free and reclaim your self.

So here I am today, deciding to take the leap and be honest about what I experienced and how I have changed.

***

I, Ryan Lee Stollar, long ago left Generation Joshua, and I think you should, too.