The Day I Ran Away: Charlie’s Story

Editorial note: Charlie blogs at Blind Horse Girl. Charlie is a pseudonym.

I remember being eleven years old, writing my mother a letter that was telling her I was running away. This was less than six months after my father had passed away, and a few months after we joined a church that I consider even to this day is both my savior and pain-filled. How I look at it depends on both the time and what I have heard from friends who still are active in both the church and world of home schooling. I haven’t told anyone about the letter, I remember the feeling though that I was going to be free, but after I thought for a second the letter was torn up and hid at the bottom of the trash can.

Maybe that would be the first time I considered telling someone, anyone about what was going in my home. I wasn’t actively being home schooled at that point in time, though I was still being taught at home in what I consider ”the fundamentalist home schooling way.” Before my father’s death I was being home schooled. My grandparents insisted that I go to regular school. I love and hate those three years. Love them because they allowed me some normalcy, but hate them because my mother found something she loved, a Pentecostal/church of god/mega church (I don’t know what else to call it, and most should at least know the type).

Home schooling though did come back like a flood, part of me thinks this is because of my choice of friends, but honestly it most likely would have happened anyway. By tenth grade, I was back to being home schooled. This time, though, involved more of what my fellow homeschool alumni are used to. Creation as science, courting, and the whole nine yards. None of which I believe in, now I am shockingly a rather happy Catholic, although that might change once I get the courage to come out of the closet on something other than a Harry Potter role playing site. Something again that makes me a sinner. Let’s just say I am a Catholic bisexual evolutionist who is visibly disabled (blind if you’re wondering). This isn’t about that though, this is supposed to be about how I got here from there.

I was what most would consider a high school dropout (though I did finish school, never got to actually get proof though), working at a horse barn making barely enough to get by. I did love having my own money, working and no future courting in sight (more than likely because I wasn’t putting myself out there, nor were we the norm). I have no father, and my mother has never been your typical active church mom.

What changed this was when I got in a horse accident resulting in legal blindness, so independent me was back allowing my mother control of her life. But looking back, My mother never really lost control. She had my legal documents, had access to both my cash, and bank account, and was pretty much allowed to tell me what to do and how to do it. When medical treatment failed, my mother insisted that my healing was to be found in the church. When it did not work, my mother turned to anger that I was disabled, because she saw me as forever in her care. The abuse that was a norm of my childhood became a norm of my adulthood.

My lack of income meant that she lost her apartment, and had us move in with a friend of hers, another follower of the faith. It was fine for the most part in the beginning, or more than likely it was my norm. When my money ran out things changed I felt as if a light switch had been flipped. I wasn’t allowed to leave the bedroom I was forced to share with my mother. My laptop was gone, something that years ago when she got it for me she promised she wouldn’t take away. Phone numbers of relatives deleted out of my phone, it seemed out of fear I would call a relative and tell them what was going on. My closest friend insisted once I told her what was going that I needed to pray for help. Out of pure desperation I contacted a friend, who I had never met from a horse forum, through Facebook on my cell phone. She insisted that yes I was being abused, and yes, they were acting crazy.  She insisted that I needed to leave, or at least contact adult protective services, considering that I am a protected class.

I remember that last day better than all the rest, something says to me that my mother heard me talking to her, more likely only some of it, because she stayed in my room, making comments about how I have been wanting to spend time with her for weeks and now I was trying to kick her out of the room. (The reason I wanted her to leave was because I wanted to call.) When I had finally gotten the courage to tell my mother I was leaving, she told me I had to wait until a certain date, something that still sends a chill through me.

I said I was going for a walk, I don’t know why they allowed me, though I am grateful they did. I left with nothing more than the long cane I barely knew how to use and the clothing on my back. I planned on walking to a local store and calling the non-emergency line to see about getting a ride to the local homeless shelter.

(Now what I did after this is was not safe, I was rather lucky to be picked up by who I was and not some other person.)

It didn’t turn out that way. My savior, as I like to think of him, pulled up and talked to me and then told me that homeless shelter doesn’t take people after dark. He offered me his couch, which I slept on until we figured how to get me to the friend I am now staying with, out of the state my mother is in.

I haven’t spoken to her since she told me she was going down to the courthouse with the woman to file for back rent, something I know is not legal, I signed nothing that said I would pay rent. My important documents have since been replaced, and I am waiting for other things to get straightened out.

My story is an odd one, and it sounds even odd to my ears (I use a screenreader), but it is all true. I don’t think anyone, let alone someone who is blind like myself, should leave in the night. But I did what I felt I had to do, I saw my way out and went for it.

I don’t fully blame my mother for being the way she is. I wish things were different, but they aren’t. I do plan on getting my GED, going to college, and maybe getting a guide dog.

I am a homeschooler who found her way out.

Alecia Pennington, “The Girl Who Doesn’t Exist,” Can Now Prove She Does

Photo used with permission by Alecia Pennington.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Alecia Pennington has existed her entire life — but until today she wasn’t able to prove it.

Last September, Alecia Pennington fled her Texas family with the help of her grandparents. She began speaking up about her parents’ alleged identification abuse — how they were refusing to help her get identifying documents (such as her birth certificate) necessary for functioning in society. Alecia’s parents, James and Lisa Pennington, are group leaders for the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) and board members of the Hill Country Home School Association. In 2010, THSC awarded James and Lisa their “Leaders of the Year” award. Lisa is a popular homeschool blogger and speaker who writes for Hip Homeschool Moms and has presented at the Homeschool Moms Winter Summit.

Alecia created a video about the alleged abuse and it quickly went viral on YouTube. As of today, the video has almost one and a half million views and prompted Alecia to create the now-internationally-reported Help Me Prove It campaign, whose Facebook page has over 7,000 likes.

Her campaign solicited the legal help of attorney Bill Morris as well as legislative assistance from Texas State Representative Marsha Farney, who proposed a bill, HB 2794, to help people like Alecia who are American citizens yet lacking necessary documentation. The bill, which “allow[s] individuals to petition for a delayed birth certificate in the county where they live, rather than in the county in which they were born,” and “make[s] it a misdemeanor for a parent to refuse to sign an affidavit to help their child obtain a delayed birth certificate,” was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbot on June 19, 2015, and went into effect several days ago on September 1.

Alecia’s grandmother, Lee Southworth, who helped Alecia break free from her family, says they have put in “thousands of hours” of work thus far attempting to obtain Alecia’s birth certificate. And today, after the enactment of HB 2794, their work has finally reached a joyous ending. This morning Alecia went to Williamson County Court House and received the birth certificate she has fought so long to obtain. “So happy and excited this morning!” she exclaimed on Facebook. “Finally able to prove legal identity!” Alecia extended her sincere thanks to her lawyer William Morris and and Representative Marsha Farney: “You guys are rockstars,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough.”

While Alecia’s story ends on a well-deserved happy note, it is important to remember that there are many homeschool alumni around the United States that are in the exact same situation Alecia was in. But tragically, unlike Alecia, their stories will never go viral and their state representatives will never know their names.

While not common, identification abuse happens far more frequently than many might imagine. Identification abuse is destroying, holding hostage, or denying a child their identification documents: birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card, and so forth. Homeschool kids (and alumni) like Alecia are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse because of certain anti-government and pro-parental rights attitudes in totalistic homeschool subcultures.

According to Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement, out of 3703 respondents, 3.65% (or 135 respondents) experienced identification abuse. Personal testimonies from homeschool alumni denied identification documents can be read at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s website. HARO’s 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling also found that the problem of ID abuse disproportionately impacts individuals who identify as female, which seems to correlate with families adhering to the Christian patriarchy movement.

Additional reading:

Identification Abuse Bill Inspired by Alecia Pennington Passes Texas House, Goes to Senate

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinato

After fleeing her family last September with the help of her grandparents, Alecia Pennington began speaking up about how her parents are allegedly refusing to help her get documents necessary for operating in society. Alecia created a video that went viral on YouTube with over a million views and launched the now-internationally-reported Help Me Prove It campaign, the Facebook page of which has over 7,000 likes.

According to a recent report by Fox News 7, Alecia continues to fight for her right to get a birth certificate. She obtained legal help through attorney Bill Morris. She also recruited legislative assistance from Texas State Representative Marsha Farney, who has proposed a bill, HB 2794, to help people like Alecia who are American citizens yet lacking necessary documentation. The bill would “allow individuals to petition for a delayed birth certificate in the county where they live, rather than in the county in which they were born. It would also make it a misdemeanor for a parent to refuse to sign an affidavit to help their child obtain a delayed birth certificate.” On Tuesday, May 11, 2015, HB 2794 passed the Texas House of Representatives. Yesterday, Wednesday, May 12, it was sent to the Senate for a vote.

Last February, Alecia reported that her father, James Pennington, was “willing to sign any documents, and give me any information he has concerning what I may need as proof.” However, in the recent Fox News 7 report, James goes on record opposing Representative Farney’s bill, calling it “misguided” and “draconian.” Fortunately, Alecia’s grandmother, Lee Southworth, stands by Alecia. Southworth says that they have put in “thousands of hours” of work thus far attempting to obtain Alecia’s birth certificate.

Alecia’s situation has drawn international attention to a problem that HA’s parent non-profit Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) has termed identification abuse. Identification abuse is destroying, holding hostage, or denying a child their identification documents: birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card, and so forth. Homeschool kids (and alumni) like Alecia are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse because of certain anti-government and pro-parental rights attitudes in totalistic homeschool subcultures. According to 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. HARO’s 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling also found that 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.

Additional reading:

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.

Identity as Means of Control: Results from the 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling


By the HARO Team

The 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling is an informal survey conducted by Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) of homeschool alumni who experienced identification abuse. HARO’s purpose is to advocate for the wellbeing of homeschool students and improve homeschooling communities through awareness, peer support, and resource development.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 12.55.04 PMWhile this was not a formal survey, our goal is to get a better picture of identification abuse within homeschooling and collect stories about such abuse. Identification abuse, also known as identity or ID abuse, was previously defined by HARO’s 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement as one’s parent, guardian or primary caretaker “not providing you with, withholding, or destroying any of your identification documents: driver’s license, social security card, etc.” The 2014 survey found that, out of 3703 homeschool alumni, 3.65% (or 135 respondents) experienced some form of identification abuse. There are also a plethora of stores onlinefrom alumni who have experienced this, including high profile cases like Cynthia Jeub and Alecia Pennington. Thus we desired to get better information about this phenomenon.

To take the 2015 survey, respondents had to be at least 18 years of age and have been homeschooled for at least a year. The survey opened on SurveyMonkey on February 12, 2015 and closed on February 17, 2015. 68 individuals took the survey. U.S. states represented by respondents include: Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, Other places of residence represented include Nova Scotia and Ontario. Several individuals were also from military families that frequently moved.

To download the results from HARO’s survey, click the link below:

Identity as Means of Control: Results from the 2015 Survey of Identification Abuse Within Homeschooling

Lisa Pennington on Adult Children, Maturity, and Drivers’ Licenses

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 13, 2015 and has been slightly modified for reprinting here.

Lisa Pennington began deleting posts on her blog, The Pennington Post, after her daughter, Alecia Faith, went public with the message that her parents were preventing her from proving her identity. It seems Lisa has realized that her posts—especially those on parenting adult children—seem rather to corroborate Alecia Faith’s story. Fortunately, we have urls and the wayback machine. To quote a friend of mine, “don’t they know the internet is forever?”

I wanted to take a moment to share one more thing I found on Lisa’s blog:

I didn’t write my regular, fascinating Monday update yesterday because I was driving.

In fact, have been driving for the past 2 days and sadly I am the only driver in this bunch.  Our belief in not letting our kids learn to drive until they are mature and enough to carry that responsibility comes back to bite me when I’m on one of these road trips.  I find myself thinking, “I wonder if I could just plop one of the girls in front of the wheel on a long stretch of nothing and tell her to hit the gas.”

This post is from June 24, 2014, a mere eight months ago, three months before Alecia Faith left home, unannounced.

Alecia Faith’s sister Grace commented on my blog the other day, stating that she is the oldest and is 24. Thus if we are generous, when this post went up last summer, Lisa’s oldest child was 23. Alecia Faith was 18 when she moved out and is now 19, so at the time of this post she would have been 18. Alecia Faith is the fourth child in her family, meaning that there were two more siblings between age 18 and 23.

Lisa says they believe in “not letting” their kids learn to drive until they are “mature . . . enough to carry that responsibility.” You may wonder how Lisa can prevent her adult children from getting their drivers licenses until she believes they are ready. Well, when children don’t have birth certificates or social security numbers (and both Grace and her brother Jacob confirmed that this was the case) they can’t exactly get drivers licenses on their own. When (and if) they could do so rested in their parents’ hands.

Lisa states that they believe in not letting their children learn to drive until they are “mature . . . enough to carry that responsibility,” and given that at this point she hadn’t let any of her adult children get their drivers’ licenses we can assume that she didn’t not believe any of them were mature enough. If you do not believe that your adult children, aged approximately 23, 21, 20, and 18, are mature enough to drive, the problem is not with them, it’s with you. Either you completely messed up in raising them, or you are vastly underestimating their maturity (or vastly overestimating the maturity needed to drive).

Being able to drive is incredibly important. In most of the United States, it is almost impossible to gain any sort of independence without being able to drive. Alecia Faith lists Kerrville, Texas, as her hometown. Kerrville appears to be a fairly rural town of 20,000 with no public transportation.

Not being able to drive in a town like this would be crippling.

Of course, two months later, in August 2014, Lisa speaks of her children borrowing her car and writes that her two oldest children are saving to by a car. In her comment on my blog, Grace says that she and her brother Jacob, who is the second child in the family, both have their drivers licenses. She writes that her parents helped walk both of them through the necessary paperwork. It appears, then, that at some point last summer Lisa determined that her two oldest children, aged 23 and either 21 or 22, were finally mature enough to drive.

Let me think for a moment of the things I did when I was 23. Wow. I’d done a lot by that time! I had been driving for six years and I had graduated from college with honors. I had applied for and been accepted into a graduate program at a good university. I had gotten married and had birthed my first child, with all of the medical bills and documentation that involved. My husband was no older than I, yet we had moved across the state and located an apartment and obtained our own rental insurance and health insurance and life insurance and car insurance.

I understand that Grace has self-published several novels and I don’t want to demean her accomplishments. She also states that she has plans to move out of her parents’ home and live a more normal life, and I am happy for her. But I can’t help but feel that preventing an adult child from getting her driver’s license until she is 23 on the grounds that she is not “mature” enough to drive is something worse than terrible parenting. It is actively holding your child back and squashing her potential. I am glad Grace now has her driver’s license, but she should have had the ability to obtain it years ago.

Grace claimed in her comment that her family is trying to help Alecia Faith by looking for documents to prove her existence, but have not been able to find any. But if Lisa and her husband were able to come up with the documentation to prove Grace and Jacob’s identity, there should be documents to prove Faith’s identity as well. Note that while her parents are saying they are willing to help, they are also saying that they do not have any documents. At this point, it appears that Alecia Faith’s grandparents have signed an affidavit for her, and that only one affidavit is needed, so while her parents claim they are willing to sign an affidavit that is irrelevant at this point. What is needed is other documents—and her parents are saying those don’t exist. But somehow, they existed for Grace and for Jacob. Is it just me, or something weird going on here?

Grace also claims that her parents were trying to help Alecia Faith get her license last summer before she left. I find it a bit strange that Lisa would suddenly decide that three of her children were old enough to drive, and that she would be willing to obtain a driver’s license for her 18 year old after making her oldest child wait until she was 23 before deciding she was mature enough, though people do strange things so this may be true. But Grace seems to use this information as proof that it was unreasonable for Alecia Faith to move out. Nope. It doesn’t work like that. First, Alecia Faith had no guarantee that her parents would actually obtain the license, and second, Alecia had reached the age of majority and was within her rights to move out.

I want to be clear that this isn’t an isolated thing.

When a parent home births and homeschools, they have total control over their children’s documents (including control over the very existence of those documents).

I grew up knowing several homeschooling families that didn’t obtain social security numbers for their children. Even birth certificates were something you could forego if you picked the right midwife. Most homeschoolers obtain both birth certificates and social security numbers for their children—mine did, for example—so don’t think I’m saying this is all that common. What I am saying is that home birthing and homeschooling gives parents the ability to deprive their children of these documents in a way that they could not if they didn’t home birth and homeschool—and some parents, like Alecia Faith’s, take advantage of that.

Children who attend public school can obtain copies of their transcripts years later. Homeschool alumni have to get those from their parents. In most cases this isn’t a problem, but when parents are controlling and manipulative, it can be a huge problem. I know someone who lived at home until she was 23 because her parents kept promising to give her her homeschool diploma and transcript, stringing her along for years. I know someone else whose parents told her they would only give her a diploma and transcript of she agreed to go to the Christian college they had picked out. You can read more stories like this here.

In her own comment on my post, a Christian homeschooling blogger stated this:

You understate how controlling Lisa is. It’s shocking really. I know because we used to be friends. 

This blogger chose to remove this comment, so I am not going to name her here. But to me, this rather confirms what I said earlier—that Alecia Faith would not have left home unannounced if she didn’t have reason for doing so. Her older sister Grace wrote in her comment that she is making plans to move out herself, but then, she is 24 and the move has not yet taken place yet. Besides, I could see Alecia Faith’s parents realizing that they need to loosen up a bit on their older children or they risk losing them as they lost Alecia Faith, so things may be different in the home than they were when Alecia Faith fled.

In summary, any parent willing to actively prevent a child from getting her drivers license until she is 23 on the grounds that she is not “mature” enough to drive is extremely controlling and manipulative.

I am very glad Alecia Faith managed to get out. You go, Alecia Faith!

James and Lisa Pennington Respond to Identification Abuse Claims

Lisa Pennington.
Lisa Pennington.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

James and Lisa Pennington responded today to their daughter Alecia’s allegations of identification abuse.

In a video posted on YouTube on February 9, 2015, Alecia claims that she was home-birthed and her parents neglected to file any birth certificate or record of any kind. They also allegedly never got her a Social Security number, have no school records for her, and have never taken her to a hospital (and thus she has no hospital records). “This leaves me with nothing to prove my identity or citizenship,” Alecia explains. “I am now 19 years old and I’m unable to get a driver’s license, get a job, go to college, get on a plane, get a bank account, or vote.” Alecia’s story has gone viral, with her video being viewed over 500,000 times and reaching the front page of Reddit. Several mainstream news sources have covered her story, including Addicting Info and The Stir.

In response, Lisa posted a YouTube video today but then promptly deleted it:

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Fortunately, an individual at Free Jinger transcribed the video. A transcript of Lisa’s comments is as follows:

Many of you have seen the video that our daughter has made and while we would prefer to talk to her privately that has not been an option for us because she has let us know that she does not want us talking to her at all. We have reached out to her and she has not responded. So, we feel like it’s best if we just go ahead and answer some of the questions about the video that she made. She says in the video that she does not have a birth certificate or the documentation that she needs to get a Social Security number or documentation for the things that she needs in her life. And she says in the video that we have refused and we want you to know that is 100% not true.

The thing that is true about her video is that she was born at home. And to our knowledge there was a birth certificate filed, the midwives told us you have to file a birth certificate and as far as we know there was one filed. We do not know what information was put on it and we do not have any copies of that. We are unaware of what was filed when she was born but we have no interest in holding anything back from her and we know you can get a delayed birth certificate which would be a great option for her. Apparently she’s been through a lot to try to get this documentation for herself and we didn’t know about any of that until the video came out. She has not shared anything along the way of her journey of her trying to deal with this. We didn’t know.

But we do know that we are happy to help her and sign whatever we need and give her whatever we need. We have told her we are looking for anything that might help her. And we’ve been looking through file boxes and we haven’t come across anything but we have nothing to hold back and we are perfectly thrilled to give her whatever she needs for her life.

Our older children have drivers licenses and voter registration and they go to college, they fly. They do what they want to do in their life and we want that for her as well. We don’t want to have any say in the choices that she’s making. We don’t want to control her. We love her. Let me be clear. We love her with the depth of a parent’s love. And if you’re parents then you know what that is. And we certainly want only the best for her and we want her to live her dreams. And we care about her having those things.

But we have been left out of the loop and not given the opportunity to help her in the way that we have helped the other kids so we don’t really know what to do. We are being attacked for this – the things she has said in the video and I just want to say loud and clear it is absolutely not true. We want every opportunity for her, we have offered over and over to help her and she has not responded or accepted that help. So whatever she needs now, we are happy to do, whatever we need to sign, we are happy to sign and let her move on with her life. And if she never wants to talk to us again, as heartbreaking as that would be, we don’t want to control that either, because we just want her to have the life that she wants. And so I hope that that answers some of your questions and thanks for stopping by.

There is no word on Lisa’s YouTube account, blog, Twitter, or Facebook page as to why she immediately removed the video after uploading it. Furthermore, several of Lisa’s blog posts about her daughter have been removed from her Pennington Point website. The most notable piece deleted was “The Hardest Post I Ever Wrote,” Lisa’s post from September 24, 2014 where she mentioned that Alecia had fled their home with the help of her grandparents. That post is no longer viewable on the Pennington Point, though HA has archived a PDF of it here.

Alecia’s father, James Pennington, also responded to my blog post today about Alecia’s situation. He first commented with a pseudonym, “Reasonable”:

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Then he later repeated the comment with his own name:

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Text is,

We want nothing but the best for Faith. We’ve told her we will sign any affidavit that will help her in the process, and that once she sends it, we’ll get it right back to her. I’ve also offered to meet with her and walk her through the process as we have with our other children.

James also preemptively bought the domain, likely to prevent Alecia from using it.

While James and Lisa have a right to respond to Alecia’s allegations, posting — then immediately deleting — videos and making comments under pseudonyms isn’t exactly a persuasive strategy.

** Update, 02/11, 4:45 pm:

James Pennington gave the following explanation for why he and Lisa are domain-squatting on

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When Your Very Identity is Held Hostage: Alecia Pennington and Identification Abuse

Image from Alecia Pennington’s Facebook page, Help Me Prove It. Image links to source.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Alecia Pennington is one of nine children of James and Lisa Pennington.

James and Lisa are group leaders for the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) and board members of the Hill Country Home School Association. THSC awarded James and Lisa their “2010 Leaders of the Year” award. Lisa is also a popular homeschool blogger who blogs at The Pennington Point and Hip Homeschool Moms and has spoken at homeschooling events such as the Homeschool Moms Winter Summit.

But according to recent revelations by Alecia, the 19-year-old daughter of the Pennington family, not all is as idyllic as it seems. According to a blog post by Lisa, Alecia fled her family last year on September 24, 2014, with the help of her grandparents. Alecia is now speaking up about how her parents are allegedly refusing to help her get documents necessary for operating in society. In a video posted on YouTube on February 9, 2015, Alecia claims that she was home-birthed and her parents neglected to file any birth certificate or record of any kind. They also allegedly never got her a Social Security number, have no school records for her, and have never taken her to a hospital (and thus she has no hospital records). “This leaves me with nothing to prove my identity or citizenship,” Alecia explains. “I am now 19 years old and I’m unable to get a driver’s license, get a job, go to college, get on a plane, get a bank account, or vote.”

You can watch the video below:

Alecia created a Facebook page, Help Me Prove It, as well as a Twitter account to bring attention to her plight. On February 10, 2015, Alecia posted a document explaining what steps she has already attempted to get the necessary documents and why they failed. According to that document, Alecia alleges that she tried to get the midwife that delivered her to find a birth record but the midwife “doesn’t seem supportive.” Furthermore, Alecia claims, after “requesting an affidavit to her birth facts and attesting to their citizenship,” James and Lisa Pennington “refused this request.”

Basically, according to these allegations, James and Lisa Pennington are holding Alecia’s very identity hostage.

The situation Alecia faces is what HA’s parent non-profit Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out has termed identification abuse. Identification abuse is destroying, holding hostage, or denying a child their identification documents: birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card, and so forth. While such abuse can happen anywhere and everywhere regardless of one’s educational environment, homeschool kids (and alumni) are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse because of certain anti-government and pro-parental rights attitudes in totalistic homeschool subcultures. Some people see identification documents as ungodly or even a “mark of the Beast,” a reference to the number 666 associated with the Antichrist in the Christian Book of Revelations.

Sadly, Alecia is not alone in her predicament. 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. One alumna, Sarah, said,

[My parents deprived me of a social security number and birth certificate] because they believed they would give the government ownership of me & that God wanted his people to be unaffiliated with any government. I am unable to attend any school, drive, get a job, get a background check. I have been trying for 3 years and still have not been successful in obtaining any documentation whatsoever.

This situation transcends homeschooling. According to The Independent UK, “Globally, there are an estimated 220 million children under five across the world whose birth is not recorded.” That number is increasingly rapidly, as “51 million babies – almost one in three of all babies born across the world annually – …are not registered each year.” These are called “hidden children.” And the tragedy of these increasing numbers of hidden children is reflected in what can result from not having identification:

There is growing evidence that, without a birth certificate, such youngsters are more likely to be poorer than even the most disadvantaged of their peers, struggling to access healthcare, attend school, sit exams, or even get the vaccinations they need to survive… A child without a birth certificate, and therefore unable to prove his or her age, is more at risk of being exploited by being put to work, of being arrested and treated as an adult in the justice system, of being forcibly conscripted into the armed forces or child marriage, or of being trafficked. It is also almost impossible to open a bank account, get a passport, vote, or even gain employment, without a record of your birth.

By denying their children documentation of their existence and citizenship, such parents set up their children for future exploitation and abuse, even trafficking. They are forcing their children into jobs that are unsafe and/or lacking basic rights and protections. For example, I have heard from a number of homeschool alumni who were forced into sex work because they had no other ways to stay afloat.

Alecia is lucky to be supported and surrounded by caring extended family and friends who have taken her into their care. Not all children or homeschool alumni have such a safety net. They enter the adult world in extremely precarious and dangerous situations and their options for surviving in that world are limited.

Sadly, even with all the love and support she has, Alecia faces an uphill battle. And what is tragic about that battle is how unnecessary it is — if only her parents were willing to help her and/or filed the necessary paperwork years ago. Instead, they appear to only value their own “parental rights” to the point of being willing to sacrifice Alecia’s own rights as a person. This is one end result of the parental rights mindset championed by groups like HSLDA and, who believe children have no rights and are nothing more than spiritual “weapons” needing to be “carefully crafted” without government interference.

Even if they are right under the law, they are wrong in the court of morality.

To follow Alecia’s story and support her, “like” her Facebook page Help Me Prove It and follow her on Twitter at @HelpMeProveIt.

** Update, 02/11, 2 pm: 

James and Lisa Pennington have issued responses. Read them here.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part One, Introduction

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part One was originally published  with the title “Quiverfull Sorority of Survivors (QFSOS) & Voices of ‘Sister-Moms'” on June 24, 2013. This is a slightly modified version of the original post. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.


Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story


Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney

I hosted a guest blog series about the experiences of “sister-Moms” in Quiverfull families.

This was actually the first time I’ve had people do guest posts on Becoming Worldly. I was excited about it  — and really couldn’t think of a better topic to start with!

Before beginning with the first guest post, an account by a young woman who’s going by “DoaHF,” I figured a brief intro about the kinds of issues young women and girls who were raised in these sorts of environments often face would be appropriate. This intro is a generalization. But based on my experiences, research, reading blogs, and conversations with many other Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy daughters, the following troubling patterns and issues for girls emerge:

  • Being a “parental child” and having an adult level of responsibility within the home starting at a young age.
  • Inappropriate and enmeshed relationships with parents, particularly fathers, encouraged by daughter-to-father purity pledges, purity balls, and purity rings and teachings saying that daughters are under their father’s “spiritual covering,” much like a junior wife of sorts, until (and if) they receive permission to marry through a parent-guided or arranged process.
  • Lack of age-appropriate financial, social, emotional, physical, or educational independence during formative years (and often into adulthood).
  • Social isolation and indoctrination as part of a controlled, restricted, and separatist “us v. the ungodly world” perspective.

In May I briefly spoke out about my personal experiences as part of a BBC World Radio Heart & Soul documentary on the Quiverfull movement. The “A Womb Is A Weapon” radio piece is half an hour long, with some adorable British accents and one distinctive New Zealand one. I speak starting at minute 11, and Nancy Campbell totally sounds like a racist Disney villain. Yep…not even kidding!

Within this sort of isolated, dogmatic, and restricted environment where the parents are consumed by what they see as duty to “the Father,” the eldest daughters of Quiverfull families are enlisted as junior mothers to their own siblings. While Quiverfull proponents such as Nancy Campbell often talk about how helpful this system is to mothers of large families and focus on how much these daughters are learning about childcare, the drawbacks of the lifestyle to the daughters doing this constant care are numerous. They are only recently coming to light because, as these daughters ourselves, we speaking are out about them.

That is the focus of this “Voices of Sister-Moms” guest post series.

Note: The rest of these issues apply to daughters of Christian patriarchy as well as Quiverfull daughters. While many in Christian patriarchy families did not have to care for numerous siblings, most still had the rest of the accompanying teachings, rules, and expectations.

The “Dad in charge of everything, particularly guarding his daughter from the interest of young men” is a standard thing in Christian patriarchy (with a watered-down and often more symbolic version of this occurring in mainstream society). But it can become much more extreme when a daughter is homeschooled. Then she literally can be hidden away from all outside men and boys, encouraged to look to Daddy as the manliest of manly examples in her life, and I don’t think I have to get into how very wrong this can sometimes go.

Daughters who do eventually disobey or disagree with their fathers (often by choosing higher education without approval or planning to marry someone he disapproves of) describe a subsequent shunning that takes place by dear old Dad as being “like a bad breakup.”

This, folks, can be referred to by the icky name for what it actually is — emotional incest.

Some young women report not being allowed to work outside the home in their teens and early 20′s, others report being able to do so under heavy monitoring and sometimes then only at certain types of workplaces seen as appropriately “feminine” or gender-segregated enough, and others report being able to only work in or start home-based businesses or do tutoring and childcare. Some report engaging in long hours of unpaid labor for family businesses, others being forced to turn over their earnings to their parents, and others having what they are allowed to spend their savings on tightly controlled by their parents.

Either way, becoming physically and financially independent is often not allowed.

A number of Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy daughters say that they were not permitted to get their diploma, a GED, or their drivers license. Some even did not have social security numbers issued to them due to being the product of an unreported home birth.  Their parents chose to use withholding these things as a way to control them. Some have even said that they were told it would be their future husband’s choice as to whether they eventually got these things, or were simply told that they would not need them for a life of housewifery and motherhood.

For many, a college education is intentionally set out of reach, whether being described as an unbecoming or immoral goal for daughters.

The young woman is repeatedly told she is not intelligent enough or doesn’t have the right aptitudes to obtain higher education. Or her parents might refuse to sign FAFSA paperwork enabling her to be eligible for student financial aid.

Many girls report only being able to socialize with siblings or the daughters of likeminded families, and then only under supervision, steeped in a strong “informant culture” inculcated into the children that generally curtails secret-telling. In addition to often being kept away from peers, most girls report being encouraged or required to wear “modest” dresses that are several sizes too big or more appropriate for someone several years younger or a great deal older, having their Internet and phone conversations closely monitored, and having friendships with boys disallowed or ended for superficial reasons.

Another thing often mentioned by young women who grew up in Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy homes is that very coercive and often both emotionally and physically abusive “discipline methods” were regularly used on them to keep them toeing the parental line. “Spankings” that consist of multiple hard hits with a belt, a piece of plumbing line, or a wooden stick or utensil (sometimes occurring well into their teenage years), “taking of privileges” that may include meals or basic necessities, and being put “on restriction” by being given punishing chores and/or temporarily shunned and shamed by the family for any form of questioning or disobeying.

Often there are threats of having even minimal contact with the outside world removed and replaced with punishments if a girl gives so much as a hint of showing disagreement or displeasure towards her parents, which is referred to as “having a bad attitude.”

As such, smiling and “being joyful” are often the only moods permitted for young women like us and the struggles with depression, guilt, self-harm, and self-esteem that might be expected in such an emotionally repressive environment occur with regularity. In addition, and this is often reported to be one of the most painful of the control techniques, young women raised in Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy families often are told that they are risking their very souls, God’s wrath, and the entrance of demonic and satanic forces into their lives if they do not “honor their mother and father” by cheerfully complying with every parental request. Some parents will also tell their children that the bible permits and may even require rebellious offspring to be put to death.

For most young women who do choose to leave (or are forced to leave) the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy way of life, the outside world can be quite overwhelming and scary in many ways and the transition difficult on many levels. Some initially find shelter in marriage and family, others though university attendance, others through paid employment, and still others through the help of extended family and friends.

A few even manage to find their way to places like Meadowhaven for cult deprogramming.

As we come of age and grow in our understanding of what happened to us and gather to tell our stories, there is a sense of comfort, healing, and solidarity in finally being able to compare and share our experiences, to know that we are not broken, we did not “imagine things,” and we are not alone. Together we can face the truth and recognize (if not come to an in-depth understanding of something seemingly so unfathomable) that the indoctrination that took place in our formative years was indeed done by the same people who brought us into this world and our parents were likely indoctrinated themselves.

While growing up in this lifestyle may seem pretty extreme or foreign to someone looking at it from the outside (or even to someone like me who grew up in it but didn’t really see it through this sort of framework until many years later) there is something important to keep in mind. First, it was normal for us because it was what we knew. Also, although it certainly can bring hardship and pain — after all we never asked or chose to be raised in such an environment — there are many strong, smart, dedicated, and likable young women who have escaped it and “pass for normal” in our society today.

I have so much respect for many of the ones I’ve had the honor of meeting and getting to know and look forward to being introduced to more.

When you choose to move on despite the fear, the hardships, the shouted threats by “leaders” and patriarchs, even while knowing you may face a loss of connection with your own family, you do it because something inside you says you have to be free to live, not because you want to leave your loved ones behind. Despite the unnecessary hardships that many of us have had to overcome (and are still overcoming), today we know that we have both the right and the ability to let ourselves out of the cage that this harsh and harmful lifestyle is.

As more of us come of age, more will continue to do so.

We hope to make it easier for them.

The Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy movement is still young. It’s mostly the “big sisters” who are speaking out right now.

But as time goes on our little sisters will likely join us.

So while these sorts of formative experiences do leave scars, today those of us who are out can choose what directions we would like our lives to go. We can take back these stolen parts of our lives. And as we let others know what happened and how we felt about it, we can find assurance in the knowledge that we are discovering and shedding light on a dark side of human nature. We are also highlighting the resilience of the human spirit and the power of community.

We might have each felt hopelessly alone and silenced while we went through this stuff before, as children, teens, and young women. But we are not alone today.

We now have the words and confidence to share what happened to us, what is still happening to others, and the confidence to ask you to understand and help us do something about it.


To be continued.