HSLDA Praises Parental Assault on Black Child

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

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

You can view the video in full here:

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

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

What Toya did is illegal. It is child abuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional reading:

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

Michael Farris’s Testimony Before the Senate on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Part 2: By Rachel Lazerus

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was a guest post by Rachel Lazerus and was originally published on Patheos on November 12, 2013. Rachel Lazerus received her MPP from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago in 2012. She is currently researching comparative methods of reporting homeschooling achievement.

Part One

In his opening argument against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Farris asserted that the pro-treaty side was not doing its due diligence and had not thoroughly analyzed the full legal effect of the law. “We don’t hear citations to articles of the treaty,” he intoned. “We don’t hear consideration of the reports, the concluding observations, by the Committee on the Rights to Persons with Disability. We don’t hear the kind of legal analysis that would be appropriate for analyzing the legal impact of this treaty.” Consistent with this criticism, Farris cited two experts known to be sympathetic toward the treaty in order to support his legal analysis: Columbia University’s Louis Henkin, one of the most influential legal scholars in the realm of human rights and international law, and University of London’s Geraldine Van Bueren, a leading human rights expert.

If you read my previous post on Michael Farris’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—and you should—you will know that prominent homeschool advocate Michael Farris is arguably the holdup to the Senate signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Last week he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, arguing that the Senate should not ratify the treaty because doing so would limit parents’ rights to make decisions for their children and ultimately have a negative effect on homeschooling—even though Farris is essentially the only one to interpret the treaty in this way. When the Senate signs a treaty, it often also has to pass new laws for implementation, which will put the treaty into effect. This is not the case with the CRPD, because the CRPD itself is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is already a part of U.S. law.

Farris denies that this is the case: he believes that ratifying the CRPD will inexorably lead to changes in US law.

During his testimony, he cited references to Henkin and Van Bueren, whose arguments he claims the Senators have neither read nor even considered. But the problem here is not the Senate: it’s Farris.

Out of my desire to understand his reasoning, I looked up Farris’s citations and read them in their original context. What I found was stunning: the simple reality is that Farris took both Henkin’s and Van Bueren’s statements out of context and misapplied them to his own twisted legal theory. By citing each quote out of context, Farris was able to, as Senator Menendez said, take “a noncontroversial statement and twist it into something that’s rather sinister.”

The very basis of Farris’s protestations against the CRPD, then, is a lie.

The Henkin Citation

In his opening statement, Farris quoted this line by Louis Henkin:

[…] the United States apparently seeks to ensure that its adherence to convention will not change or require change in US laws, policies, or practices, even when they fall below international standards. […] Reservations designed to reject any obligation to rise above existing law and practice are of dubious propriety: if states generally entered such reservations, the convention would be futile. […] Even friends of the United States have objected to its reservations that are incompatible with that object and purpose and are therefore invalid. The United States, it is said, seeks to sit in judgment on others but will not submit its human rights behavior to international judgment. To many the attitude reflected in such reservations is offensive. The conventions are only for other states, not for the United States.

Louis Henkin.
Louis Henkin.

Note the bracketed ellipses.

For those readers unfamiliar with academic conventions, an ellipsis is used to indicate that text has been left out of a longer text. This is why a movie critic can write a review saying “this movie was no fun or good, you should stay home and spend the money for your family’s tickets on a new couch” and the movie producers can run an ad saying the critic said “fun…good…for your family”. Ellipses can disguise or hide what someone really said. Always take note when you see lots of ellipses.

Farris’s usage here was less egregious than the hypothetical movie producer’s ad, but did leave out important context. The full context of what Henkin said is found in an article he authored titled “U.S. Ratification of Human Rights Conventions: The Ghost of Senator Bricker,” published in The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 89, No. 2 (Apr., 1995), pp. 341-350. If you have access to JSTOR, you can read it here. The words Farris left out are in bold.

By its reservations, the United States apparently seeks to assure that its adherence to a convention will not change, or require change, in U.S. laws, policies or practices, even where they fall below international standards. For example, in ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the United States refused to accept a provision prohibiting capital punishment for crimes committed by persons under eighteen years of age. In ratifying the Torture Convention, the United States, in effect, reserved the right to inflict inhuman or degrading treatment (when it is not punishment for crime), and criminal punishment when it is inhuman and degrading (but not “cruel and unusual”).

You can see why Henkin—again, a leading human rights lawyer—would be rather appalled at the US ducking such a provision, which is indeed contrary to the “object and purpose” of the treaty. (Indeed, the Supreme Court later prohibited capital punishment for persons under the age of eighteen in 2005’s Roper v. Simmons.)

Farris admitted that while the context was different, Henkin’s “principle was applicable” to the treaty at stake. This is denying a rather major contextual change. The main difference between Henkin’s argument in 1995 and Farris’s argument in 2013 is that when ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United States used a reservation in order to create a loophole, thus allowing the US to continue to execute juveniles under the age of 18 who were convicted of capital crimes. There is no such similar loophole being created by any proposed reservations to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Farris may genuinely believe that the reservations create such a loophole, but Farris also has a rather idiosyncratic view of both the phrase “the best interests of the child” and the purpose of the UN that is not reflected in mainstream thought and would not be supported by Henkin.

Furthermore, the issue remains: why cite Henkin? Henkin’s legal opinion is that the US should ratify treaties with fewer reservations in order to increase accountability to other UN member nations and that the US should enact legislation that would bring it to the same human rights standard as other foreign nations. Farris, who wishes to “enact an amendment to the Constitution so the demogogues [sic] in Washington DC can never again subject this nation to the duty to follow the law of the United Nations”, clearly does not wish to cede any type of sovereignty or oversight to the UN. He certainly would not want the US to follow the same kind of homeschooling laws currently practiced by Germany. It is very strange that Farris would be citing Henkin’s views on this one particular issue even as he admits that he disagrees with the substance of Henkin’s views, as well as with the conclusions that Henkin draws: Henkin thought that the US should stop using RUDs to duck responsibilities to foreign nations, while Farris would apparently prefer that the US stop signing treaties altogether.

(Perhaps Farris is regularly sloppy, or perhaps he’s just not very good with details, but it’s interesting to note that not only did Farris misspell Henkin’s name twice in his written brief, he also continually referred to Henkin in the present tense during his testimony. He did not seem to realize that Professor Henkin had passed away in October 2010. In contrast, Senator Menendez properly referred to Henkin using the past tense, and noted that not only would Henkin be in favor of the treaty, the human rights institutions that Henkin had founded and participated in also support ratification of the treaty.)

The Van Bueren Citation

Geraldine Van Bueren.
Geraldine Van Bueren.

I earlier mentioned Farris’s idiosyncratic views on the phrase “the best interests of the child.” It’s certainly one he uses often; he referred to it six times during his testimony. In Farris’s view, this phrase is the smoking gun that reveals the perfidious nature of the UN treaty and its sinister aim to steal children from their parents’ authority and place them under the government’s control. His citation for this claim is always the same quote from Geraldine Van Bueren, which he cites as “Geraldine Van Bueren, International Rights of the Child, Section D University of London, 46 (2006).

Best interests provides decision and policy makers with the authority to substitute their own decisions for either the child’s or the parents’, providing it is based on considerations of the best interests of the child.

This is clearly a passage that has imprinted on Farris’s brain, as he cites this exact quote in eight different documents on ParentalRights.org (in addition to citing various other quotes from different sections of the same document of Van Bueren’s).

Like the previous quote from Henkin, it is incomplete and taken out of context.

I found a more complete version of Van Bueren’s quote in her 1995 work, “The International Law on the Rights of the Child,” on page 45—46, in a section called “The New Principles of Intervention.” The fuller context of the quote, which I located, makes it clear that Van Bueren is providing a historical overview of the way that the best interests standard has been applied, rather than stating the definitive legal view of the position.

Although the best interest of the child is common in domestic legislation it is not expressedly incorporated into many major human rights instruments. So, for example, neither the European Convention on Human Rights nor the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights includes any such reference. This is partly because the rights approach of human rights treaties is at odds with the traditional welfare approach of best interests which undermines the child’s autonomy. Therefore, the inclusion of best interests of the child in a rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, suggests that this traditional concept has been remoulded. In its broadest application the principle is articulated in article 3(1) of the Convention, which provides that, “In all actions concerning children whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” [ . . . ]

As has been frequently observed, although the question is viewed from the child’s best interests, the answer is frequently given from an adult perspective. Best interests provides decision and policy makers with the authority to substitute their own decisions’ for either the child’s or the parents’, providing it is based on considerations of the best interests of the child, Thus the Convention challenges the concept that family life is always in the best interests of children and that parents are always capable of deciding what is in the best interests of children.

Farris may not agree with this expanded version any more than he agrees with the limited quote he has been using, but by placing Van Bueren’s quote in context, it’s clear that she is discussing the way that one specific convention—the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—uses the phrase “the best interests of the child”. And in fact, an unbiased look at the full context of Van Bueren’s work would show that, far from Farris’s view of a static and nefarious concept, Van Bueren argues that the phrase “best interests of the child” is not a “legal term of art” but rather an evolving legal concept that has been interpreted differently over time by various conventions on human and child rights.

(Since Farris also opposes the ratification of the CRC, it is worth including a short parenthetical on that treaty. Contrary to Farris’s assertions on the subject, the CRC actually supports the child’s right to be raised by his or her parents and includes numerous other provisions on the importance of parental involvement and decision-making in children’s upbringing. Yes, the CRC challenges the idea that parents always know what is best for their children—and the existence of abusive and neglectful parents suggests that this idea very much needs to be challenged—but it does not in fact make children wards of the state as Farris would have his followers think. For more, see this fact sheet published by UNICEF.)

The attentive reader will wonder why I am using a different text than Farris did for this quote.

The answer is quite simple: the book that Farris cites does not exist.

Van Bueren has never published a book called “International Rights of the Child”, nor does she list any books published during the year 2006. Searching for the same citation that Farris used in his written testimony only turns up documents on his website ParentalRights.org, or articles referring positively to Farris and his views. Indeed, I may be the first person ever to check Farris’s citation for accuracy.

I suspect, though I cannot outright prove, that instead of citing Van Bueren’s work directly, Farris is citing a study guide from a class he took for his distance-learning LLM.

The circumstantial evidence for this conclusion is very great. The program that Michael Farris has likely enrolled in can be found here, and it advertises as a selling point that the programs “have been developed by academics within Queen Mary and UCL Law departments.” Van Bueren is a professor at Queen Mary College at the University of London, and a course called “International Rights of the Child” is listed in the course catalogue for the distance-learning LLM (page 40). The required text for the class is a book written by Van Bueren. The class is broken down into four sections labeled A, B, C, and D, which matches the citations Farris uses throughout ParentalRights.org. While I was not able to locate the study guide for Section D, I did find a study guide for Section C, which seems to be a summary of Van Bueren’s earlier work. It appears that Van Bueren took part in preparing or at least approved the adaptation of her previous work into modules for the course offered by the University of London, which would explain why an identical sentence shows up in two works dated 11 years apart.

I have reached out to Michael Farris on his Facebook page and asked if he could clarify his sourcing for the Van Bueren quote. He has not yet responded to me, though he has posted several links since I asked. I would welcome any clarifications he can provide, and I’m sure Libby Anne would give him space to reply to this and the other questions I’ve raised.

It is not clear to me that Farris is deliberately twisting the context of Van Bueren’s quote, at least not in the same way that he knowingly used Henkin’s quote to apply to a different situation than the one Henkin intended. It is entirely possible that Michael Farris, while doing the required coursework for his online LLM degree from the University of London, stumbled upon the truncated quote he cites so regularly in his articles. If the quote appeared on its own when placed in the study guide, he may not have realized the greater context of the quote, and thus may have interpreted it as a prescriptive guide for using the phrase “best interests of the child”, and not as a descriptive definition given at one point in time, by one particular convention on children’s rights. If this is so, then Farris, like many graduate students before and after him, simply skipped doing the further required reading. In this scenario, he is guilty of doing only the bare minimum reading in order to graduate, rather than being guilty of the odiousness of deliberately and repeatedly twisting the context of the quote in order to further his own agenda.

Or, as he did to Henkin, he understood the context of Van Bueren’s quote, but deliberately took her words out of their original context in order to mislead others.

In both cases, he has committed the very great sin of improperly citing an unpublished study guide or course module as though it were a published book, incidentally making it very difficult for anyone to find the original citation. It’s almost like Farris felt he had something to hide.

And while it is a great rhetorical device to cite the direct and unvarnished words of your opponent—the observant reader will note my fondness for the tactic—it works best when you understand your opponents’ arguments. Farris does not understand Van Bueren’s text, and is willfully misapplying Henkin’s argument. His appeals to authority and expertise are thus invalid.

Conclusion

Now let’s return to Farris’s testimony last week.

Farris said on his facebook page afterwards that giving his testimony to the Senate “wasn’t really any fun.” I must admit, tearing apart Michael Farris’s flimsy excuses for a legal argument has been great fun for me, though I do worry it is unsporting to be fighting a battle of wits with someone who shows every indication of having arrived unarmed.

Here’s the real problem, though. For all my snark here? Farris has won. And he is continuing to win.

Farris may have made himself look like a fool in front of the Senate, but he has shifted the Overton Window of homeschooling policy.

We are unable to talk about ratifying a treaty on the disabled—a treaty which we are already following all of the requirements of—without multiple reassurances that homeschooling will remain unrestricted. These are completely unrelated topics and they should never have been conflated in the first place. The only reason we are talking about them together now is because of the twisted and outright false legal reasoning of a man who cannot string a sentence together about why homeschooling and disability are being discussed together without resorting to fallacies, and a man who hours afterwards is already trumpeting how persecuted he was. He cannot tell the truth about an event, even when the Senate session is broadcast exposing him for what he is.

On his Facebook page, Farris posted the following:

The shots were cheap and it wasn’t really any fun.

But here is the point. When the left stoops to these kinds of tactics, it is a sign of two things:

1. They have no effective answers to the substance of my arguments.

2. I am having an impact.

I hope that these blog posts have demonstrated to you that there are indeed very effective arguments for Farris’s arguments, and that Senators Boxer, Durbin, and Menendez used them well during the committee hearing. But I cannot deny the truth of Farris’s second assertion. He is having an impact. He has an agenda. And he has been using the members of HSLDA to implement that agenda.

It is long past time to take control away from the abuser.

In the same Facebook post I cited above, Farris claimed that “the left” is targeting certain Republican senators who have previously voted against the treaty and ask them to change their vote. It’s now long past time for the left—and the center, and the right—to do just that. On PBS’s Newshour, Senator Menendez said that he counts 61 votes affirmed for the treaty, including Democrats, Republican, and Independents. For the Senate to pass the treaty, he needs 67. You can—and should—get involved. It’s as simple as picking up your cell phone.

To quote Farris himself in a fashion he may agree with, “If we let [Farris] get away with these tactics—our movement, indeed our country is doomed.” Truer words.

Michael Farris’s Testimony Before the Senate on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Part 1: By Rachel Lazerus

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was a guest post by Rachel Lazerus and was originally published on Patheos on November 11, 2013. Rachel Lazerus received her MPP from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago in 2012. She is currently researching comparative methods of reporting homeschooling achievement.

Last year, Michael Farris, homeschool advocate and founder of the powerful Home School Legal Defense Association, was instrumental in blocking the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), despite its complete irrelevancy to homeschooling issues. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) is now bringing the treaty back to the Senate, hoping to ratify it in this current session. Last week, Michael Farris was a witness for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, testifying on why he thinks this treaty would be bad for the U.S.

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You probably didn’t watch Farris’s testimony last week, and his followers probably didn’t either. In fact, Michael Farris is banking on them not having seen it. You see, Michael Farris hopes they will accept his description of the hearing, of how mean and unbalanced it was, and how vicious the “Democrat” senators are. Farris hopes his followers will call their senators and demand that they vote no on the treaty. And of course, Farris hopes his followers will donate money to HSLDA in their outrage!

The problem is that Michael Farris’s description does not match up with reality.

While Farris told his followers that the Democratic senators sought to “vilify and destroy” him, in actual fact they treated his arguments against the treaty with the respect they deserved. Many of Farris’s legal analyses were countered by the other witnesses and the Senators. His demeanor throughout the hearing was aggressive and at some points incredibly rude and disrespectful to sitting Senators. And the “petty, silly, and personal attack” that Farris decries was, in fact, a response to Farris’s appeal to his own authority, one which he has used both here and previously to brush off criticism of his legal analysis.

In this post I will examine Farris’s description of the hearing, what actually happened, and some of the issues involved. I will look at Farris’s exchanges with Senators Boxer, Durbin, and Menendez, and contrast what actually took place with how Farris portrayed what took place in a fundraising letter he sent out to HSLDA members later that day. In my next post I will delve more into the legal issues at hand. I believe that this is an issue you should care deeply about, because the political power that Farris has is predicated on his position as leader of HSLDA, and his rejection of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is entirely consistent with the philosophies he’s built his political base around—and also because there are compelling reasons the U.S. for the U.S. to sign the CRPD.

Of course, you don’t have to take my word for any of this. You can watch and read Farris’s testimony for yourself and judge whether or not my description is accurate. First, you can watch the Senate hearing here (or here). Second, you can read my own transcription, which I made while watching it, my curiosity piqued by Sarah Jones’ description (my transcription is not perfect and may have some flaws or typos). I was not able to transcribe the entire two-and-a-half hours of the panel, and therefore I have not included all of the arguments or debate on the CRPD, but I was able to cover all of Farris’s testimony, as well as his back-and-forth conversations with Senators Corker, Boxer, Durbin, Johnson, Menendez, and Coons.

Background

Before I dissect Farris’s arguments and his back and forth with the various senators, I want to lay out some basic, noncontroversial, unchallenged facts about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD):

  1. The CRPD has already been ratified by over 130 countries around the world.
  2. The US has signed but not ratified the CRPD.
  3. Until the US ratifies the CRPD, no US representatives are able to take part in the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which monitors implementation. This limits US involvement in implementation of disability laws in other countries — of concern to US citizens traveling abroad — and in the interpretation of the treaty by the UN.
  4. Michael Farris is the most prominent voice opposing the ratification of the CRPD. Farris’s argument is that because there is no explicit mention of parents’ right to determine their children’s education, ratifying the treaty could potentially affect homeschooling. This is not in line with legal precedent of how the courts determine the US’s obligations under treaties such as these.
  5. Under debate currently in the Senate are a number of RUDs—reservations, understandings, and declarations—that the US may attach to its ratification of the treaty. While these are a common practice by the US and other countries, Farris is arguing that the only type of reservation he would accept is one invalidating the treaty.
  6. According to his opening testimony, Farris agrees with the emotional and political arguments in favor of ratification, but he believes that despite every assurance he has received to the contrary, ratifying the CRPD will change US law.
  7. If Farris had not decided to protest the CRPD, it is very likely it would have been ratified last December.

While Farris has characterized the pro-treaty side as being “Democrat” and “left”, this is not actually the case.

The CRPD has bipartisan support in the Senate, with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all being in favor of the treaty. While Farris noted that two of the witnesses were “sitting senators”, he neglected to note that both Mark Kirk (IL) and Kelly Ayotte (NH) are sitting Republican senators, or that the other pro-treaty witnesses included Tom Ridge, a Republican who served as Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, and Richard Thornburgh, a Republican who served as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush. The Americans with Disabilities Act, on which the CRPD is based, was signed in 1990 by President Bush and passed the House by a vote of 377 to 28 and the Senate with a vote of 91 to 6. Several of the at the committee hearing made note of the remarkably bipartisan nature of this bill, and made it clear that supporting the rights of the disabled and of veterans is neither a Democratic nor a Republican issue, but a human rights issue.

Farris’s characterization of the treaty as a plot by “the left” is thus both fundamentally dishonest and a cheap ploy to get donations from people who dislike the “Democrat” party.

Barbara Boxer’s “Attack”

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With this background, we now turn to the substance of Farris’s characterization of his interactions with three Senate Democratic committee members. Farris described his back-and-forth by Senator Boxer this way:

After we gave our introductory remarks, the personal attacks began. Senator Barbara Boxer (CA), the second most senior Democrat senator on the committee, asked me if HSLDA or ParentalRights.org has ever raised money during our battle against UN control over children and families with disabilities. Instead of asking her if she had ever raised money during her campaigns for U.S. Senate, or whether any of the pro-UNCRPD organizations raise money for their fight, I explained that HSLDA is funded by you, our members. ParentalRights.org is funded solely by donations.

Senator Boxer’s attack, however, was not really against me or HSLDA. It was against you, and every other homeschool family who has ever supported HSLDA because you believe in our mission to defend the God-given right of parents, not faceless bureaucrats, to care for and educate our children. Senator Boxer thinks that your membership in HSLDA and your support of our critical work to defend homeschooling, support widows and single parents through the Home School Foundation, and the work of ParentalRights.org to pass a constitutional amendment makes you an evil special interest that must be vilified and defeated.

Contrast this description with what was actually said during the two minutes that Senator Boxer spent addressing Farris. You can view the relevant video here or read the transcript as follows:

Boxer: “Now, Dr. Farris, you say that you’re speaking for the disabled, but your statements are directly contradicted by organizations that work every day, 24/7, to protect disabled kids, like the United States International Council on Disabilities who states, quote, ‘this treaty protects parental rights and highlights the important role of parents in raising children with disabilities.’ Unquote. And TASH, you know that organization, says quote, ‘nothing included in this treaty prevents parents from homeschooling. This treaty embraces the spirit of the Individuals with Disability Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and all disability non-discrimination legislation.’ But you, Dr. Farris, argue the opposite. You once even said, and I quote,‘the definition of disability is not defined in the treaty and so my kids – my kid wears glasses, now they’re disabled. Now the UN can get control of them.’ Well, I have to say in my opinion, that is nonsense that if a child wears glasses [Boxer touches her own glasses], then the child is considered disabled. So I wonder what is behind your fight. And I just ask this question for the record. Have you ever tried to raise funds by telling parents this treaty will limit their ability to decide what is best for their children?”

Farris: “Senator, our organization is funded by membership dues, not by contributions.”

Boxer: “So you’ve never sent out an e-mail asking for funds to fight—”

Farris: “No, the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association, um, is associated also with a group called ParentalRights.org. Parentalrights.org has indeed sent out fundraising emails—”

Boxer: “Thank you very much.”

Farris: (overlapping) “But, Senator, the substantive answer is, the treaty doesn’t ban homeschooling. What the treaty does is shift the decision-making power from the parent to the government. That is what the meaning of the best interests standard is.”

Boxer: “Well, that is not something that I agree with, nor do any of the organizations.

Farris: (overlapping) “Well—”

Boxer: “Thank you very much.”

Farris lied when he categorized Boxer’s questioning as an attack on HSLDA families. Boxer was not attacking, or even coming close to attacking, any HSLDA family. She simply asked Farris a question—whether he was using his opposition to the CRPD as a fund-raising cash cow—that he was embarrassed to answer. She never used the words “evil special interest”—an interesting choice of words by Farris, given that he has done more than anyone else to turn homeschooling families into a special interest group. Perhaps Farris, flushed in his residual embarrassment after his performance, accidentally admitted his private categorization of HSLDA families.

What Senator Boxer was actually getting at was Farris’s practice of issuing bald-faced lies about the implications of the CRPD in order frighten homeschooling parents so as to raise money for his organizations.

And the fact that Farris turned around and sent this letter out—including a P.S. asking for money (“Finally, even though Senator Boxer doesn’t want you supporting the battle against the UNCRPD and for U.S. sovereignty, you can donate if you wish”)—is an example of his inability to understand either what Senator Boxer was getting at or that what he is doing is fearmongering and wrong.

For the record, this very e-mail reveals that Farris is officially sending fundraising e-mails from HSLDA.org in order to fund “the battle against the UNCRPD and for U.S. sovereignty”—the exact thing he denied doing just hours earlier in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he claimed that he only sent out such emails from ParentalRights.org. Senator Boxer was onto something. Farris is indeed making inflammatory and incorrect assertions about what happened in order to raise money. Ironically, his attack on Senator Boxer justifies her line of questioning.

Senator Durbin’s “Misunderstanding”

durbin

Next came Farris’s mischaracterization of Senator Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois. Here is Farris’s description of their interaction:

Next, Senator Dick Durbin (IL), another senior Democrat on the committee, falsely argued that HSLDA’s position is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the threat to homeschool freedom. The fact is that HSLDA strongly supports the ADA and other laws advancing the freedom and dignity of persons with disabilities which our democratically elected representatives have passed. What’s more, the UNCRPD would actually threaten parental rights which are enshrined in the IDEA [the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]. I explained to him that it was the UNCRPD, not the ADA, which was the threat. He ignored me and persisted in stating that HSLDA believes the ADA was the threat. Logic teachers call this a straw man argument, which is used by people who do not wish to debate the merits of an issue.

Again, Farris’s recollection is simply incorrect. You can view the relevant video here, or read the transcript as follows:

Durbin: “I am just stopped cold with this argument by Mr. Farris that the Americans with Disabilities Act is going to put an end to homeschooling in America. Is that your position?”

Farris: “That’s not my position. My position is that the treaty changes the, the legal requirements in this country that it’s just not correct to say that there is no duty to change American law in accordance with the treaty. So, since I believe there will be required to be, uh, an implementation act that complies with the requirements of the treaty I think that at that point in time that’s when the problems will arise.

Durbin: “Mr. Farris—”

Farris: (overlapping) “Not under the ADA itself.”

Durbin: “Mr. Farris, the fact that the administration is not asking for an implementation act and made it clear that it’s not seeking it because the Americans with Disability Act already is controlling, and has been extensively litigated, sets disability standards in our country higher than any in the world, you don’t find that convincing.”

Farris: “That’s the same administration that’s prosecuting the homeschooling family to try to expel them from the United States who came here—”

Durbin: “Under the ADA? Under the Americans with Disabilities Act?”

Farris: “No, they came here under our law of asylum. But the question of the case is—that case is also pending before the Supreme Court, and the question is—”

Durbin: “Well, Let me just say Mr. Farris—”

Farris: “I guess you don’t want me to answer the question.” *flounces back in his seat*

Durbin: “I don’t think you can answer because you want to talk about something other than the American Disability Act or the convention on disabilities, and that’s what we’re here to discuss.”

Farris: “The convention with disabilities has a different legal standard than the ADA.”

Durbin: “I can tell you—”

Farris: (overlapping) “There are numerous disability organizations that say so. I include their citations in my written testimony. I’m not the only one that says that. The CRPD committee agrees with me.”

Durbin: “And I would just say to you, Mr. Farris, that if we’re going to have a battle of the organizations supporting or not supporting this, I think we’re going to prevail. Because we have the mainstream disability organizations across America who are supporting the adoption of this convention on disabilities. And I—I just, I struggle with this notion that we are somehow going to stop this effort, this effort to extend the rights to the disabled around the world for fear of something which you can’t even clearly articulate when it comes to homeschooling. […] This is not going to affect homeschooling, it’s very clear that it will not. And the Americans with Disabilities Act for twenty years has not affected homeschooling. I yield back my time.”

Far from “stating that HSLDA believes the ADA was the threat”, Durbin is very clear: because the US is already bound by the ADA, which holds the US to a higher standard than the CRPD would hold the US, there will be no changes required in US law should the US ratify the CRPD. As Farris originally got involved with this treaty obstensibly in order to prevent changes in homeschooling law, this is not an irrelevant point that Durbin is making.

(Farris actually talks quite a bit about the Romeikes, a German family that is trying to get asylum in the U.S. on the basis of Germany’s essential ban on homeschooling. I personally don’t see the relevance of the Romeike family to the CRPD, and connecting the two seems to fall under the slippery slope fallacy. You can read more about the Romeike family hereherehere, and here.)

It is also clear from the video and transcript that Farris is not exactly acting with the proper decorum due to a sitting US senator or expected in a senate hearing. He is rude, interrupts the senators multiple times, and, when frustrated, resorts to mouthing off. Once I got over my initial shock, I found myself full of questions. Personally, I was not homeschooled, nor have I ever participated in any type of moot court. Is this kind of display in this sort of formal setting considered acceptable for homeschooled students? For participants in moot court? Wouldn’t judges dock points for display of temper? Surely Farris knows that when giving testimony as an expert witness, it is advisable not to behave like a lawyer on “The Good Wife”?

But let us not let our shock at Farris’s visible display of disrespect distract us from Farris’s legal disrespect of Durbin’s very sound arguments.

Durbin, a former trial lawyer, makes numerous strong legal points that poke holes in Farris’s flimsy argument. For example, a large part of Farris’s argument relies on the assumption that US law will need to change in order to accommodate the new treaty. As the treaty is non-self-executing, this would have to be accomplished with an Implementation Act passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President. However, as Durbin pointed out, this is not necessary in the case of the CRPD. This is corroborated by the UN website on the Treaty on Disabilities:

Except in the rare case that the laws in a country already conform fully to the requirements of the Convention, a State party will normally have to amend existing laws or introduce new laws in order to put the Convention into practice.

As Durbin states, the US is exactly that “rare case” that the laws already conform to the requirements of the Convention—because the Convention was based on our current disabilities law! Perhaps Farris should consider this an example of American exceptionalism in action?

It is also incredibly ironic that Farris describes Durbin as using a logical fallacy (“straw man argument”) when in fact a large part of part of Farris’s own argument against ratifying the CRPD relies on a logical fallacy–the slippery slope fallacy. See for example what Farris said in response to a question by Senator Menendez about whether or not Farris views this treaty as a “wedge issue” (you can also view the video here):

“I believe that, uh, this treaty would be the first in a—in a line of human rights treaties that would be coming before this treat—before this committee. The committee—the convention on the rights of the child—Senator McCain misspoke, I’m sure, earlier—we have not ratified that treaty. And so, I think that would be coming next. The convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, that would be coming after that. I think that, that this treaty is the first of many treaties that would be in this, in this range, that is what is intended by that comment.”

As Farris should be well aware, a slippery slope fallacy is often “used by people who do not wish to debate the merits of an issue.” Perhaps he would agree that it is used only by those who lack the ability to make more substantive arguments.

Senator Menendez’s “Dismissal” 

Menendez

This leads us to discuss Senator Menendez’ questions. Although Menendez’s questioning of Farris lasted over eight minutes (you can view the full video here), Farris seems to have only remembered a brief snippet of the exchange (which you can watch here). In Farris’s own words:

And finally, near the end of the hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (NJ) said, by way of dismissing HSLDA’s legal arguments about how the UNCRPD is binding under international law, “I appreciate that you have an LLM from London which is as I understand from a distance learning course….” The room packed with supporters of the treaty burst out in rude and loud laughter, forcing Chairman Menendez to gavel the room to order.

Again, while this was a personal attack aimed at me intended to sideline my arguments, Chairman Menendez was admitting that he had no response to HSLDA’s arguments about the dangers of the UNCRPD and international law. He showed that he will resort to petty, silly, and personal attacks rather than substance.

Let me first say that I find it repugnant for anyone, regardless of where they obtained their education, to dismiss anyone else solely on the basis of their education.

It is a sad truth that access to education is not equally distributed across the world, and very often access is limited to people who are already relatively privileged in money, time, and social status. Distance learning courses and degrees can be used to change this: in fact, it is very likely that due to Article 24 of the CRPD, on educational rights of persons with disabilities, would lead to the increasing availability of distance-learning courses and degrees such that “persons with disabilities are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability.”

However, I do not believe that this was an attempt by Senator Menendez to attack Farris in order to distract from “substance.” Rather, I believe that Senator Menendez’s comment about Farris’s degree is justified by Farris’s earlier attempt at credentialism and, in yet another logical fallacy, an appeal from authority.

In his opening statement, Farris said to the committee (view the video here):

Turning to the issue of homeschooling, uh, I’ve been criticized by many in the press for, uh, fearmongering on this topic. But I have never seen anyone write a legal analysis. It’s just simply conclusions, just assertions that I have incorrectly analyzed the lawness. I have an LLM in International Law from the University of London, I have coached six—excuse me, seven—national championship moot court teams that debate constitutional law, I have written the legal analysis and I dare anyone to read my legal analysis and answer it with legal analysis, not conjecture and raw assertion.

Farris is the one who introduced his credentials—the only person testifying to do so, and in my opinion a rather gauche move—as his authority for making this legal argument.

Farris, while mentioning that he did receive his LLM from the University of London, notably did not include the fact that it was from the distance-learning program, leading the casual viewer to believe that Farris attended the University of London in-person, rather than through the distance-learning program.

In fact, this is something of a pattern for Farris. His bios on both HSLDA.org and ParentalRights.org mention the LLM from the University of London but do not indicate that it was a distance learning program. He also represented himself this way to a reporter from the Boston Globe:

Farris, meanwhile, stood by his assertion that he understood the treaty better than Republican supporters such as Thornburgh. Farris, a graduate of Gonzaga University School of Law, said he has better legal training when it comes to treaties.

“I have an LLM in international law from the University of London,” Farris said, referring to a postgraduate degree that is similar to a master’s program. Asked for details, Farris said he didn’t go to London for the degree; it came in a “distance learning” course and culminated in a proctored exam at a local community college.

“He is just flat wrong,” Farris said of Thornburgh’s sworn testimony that the treaty won’t change US law. “If he wrote that on an international law exam, at any law school, he would fail.”

Farris is misrepresenting himself and his law degree in public all the time, and yet he uses this misrepresented law degree as the authority backing his legal opinions. Does Farris believe that there is a distinction between “University of London” and “University of London, distance learning program”? If not, why does he continually forget to mention the type of program he went through?

In short, I believe that contrary to Farris’s account, Menendez was not making fun of Farris’s degree at all. He was instead making fun of Farris’s appeal to authority. If Farris was honest about the provenance of his degree, if he did not so frequently use it as a justification for his legal theory, then Farris would not be able to be so easily and frequently embarrassed by anyone pointing out the actual program he attended. And if Farris’s legal arguments were stronger, he would not need to resort to the fallacies of credentialism and appeals from authority at all—which is, by the way, yet another fallacy.

(As a side note, Farris complained on his Facebook account after the hearing that “they attacked me personally for ‘fear-mongering,’ misrepresentation, fund-raising, political motives, and having earned an LLM through distance learning.” As I listened to the video of the entire conference, I kept count: the only reference to ‘fearmongering’ made during this Senate hearing was the above reference made by Farris himself. That said, I myself prefer to interpret this as Farris accusing himself of fearmongering.)

Perhaps it’s because he was so embarrassed with the jibe about his degree, but Farris does not seem to have understood any of Menendez’s actual legal points, some of which will be discussed in my next post. As a matter of fact, Menendez actually states Farris’s position more clearly than Farris is able to articulate it: “you argue that the treaty creates obligations others do not see, and then you suggest that the United States must follow your interpretation as in terms of ratifying the treaty.”

In short, Menendez does engage with Farris’ legal arguments and legal reasoning.

Menendez goes on to say:

“I think that where we have a fundamental disagreement here, is that under the Constitution, the President and the Senate determine our obligations under international treaties and therefore the reservations, understandings, and declarations are the resolution and consent—are what are binding.”

Farris is welcome to all the opinions he likes—that’s his Constitutional right as an American. But his opinion of legal theory is not considered binding. The Senate determines the boundaries of the reservations attached to the treaty—this is its Constitutional duty under Article II, Section 2. In Farris’s attempt to protect the United States from encroachments on its sovereignty by the UN, he seems to be ignoring the parts of the Constitution which guarantee the American people freedom from him.

Conclusion

But don’t just let Senators Boxer, Durbin, and Menendez convince you that Farris’s arguments are ridiculous. I may not have a law degree, but I do know how to read and I’m willing to do a little bit of legwork when it comes to research. Farris claims again and again that his opponents have attacked his motives or his degrees rather than attacking his actual evidence—a claim that is false, as we have seen. Farris also continually pads his arguments with citations from other legal scholars, using these experts as a buoy to support his claim that his interpretation of the CRPD is the correct one. In my next post, I will do what Farris urges—but what I don’t think he actually expects anyone to do. I will read the experts he cites to back up his interpretation—and I will do so in their original context.

And when I do so, I think I can prove to you that he never expected anyone to do this, or else he wouldn’t have left himself so very open to being exposed as such a fraud.

Part Two >

When Did Homeschooling and Parental Rights Mean Anti-Gay?

Original photo posted on Michael Farris' Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=468390293258668&set=a.351585204939178.76024.351012244996474&type=1
Original photo posted on Michael Farris’ Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=468390293258668&set=a.351585204939178.76024.351012244996474&type=1

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on October 2, 2013.

Well, I guess it was too much to hope for that Farris et al. would speak out against the egregious threat to the rights of gay parents in Russia. When a concerned former homeschooler asked him about it on his Facebook page, he pretty much blew her off by saying that because it wasn’t a homeschooling issue he wouldn’t do anything.

Funny though, how he doesn’t have the time and isn’t willing to take the effort to speak out against the proposed legislation in Russia to take children away from gay parents, but he did find time to be at the launch of Trail Life. Trail Life, for the uninitiated, is the organization that just formed as an alternative to the Boy Scouts. To be precise, it was founded as an alternative by those who do not like it that the Boy Scouts is no longer kicking children out of the Scouts for being gay. Note, the Boy Scouts still does not allow anyone over 18 to be involved with scouting if they’re gay, but that’s not enough for the Trail Life folks.

If you’re not kicking kids to the curb if they come out, you’re caving into the pressures of the amoral left.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=468390293258668&set=a.351585204939178.76024.351012244996474&type=1
Source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=468390293258668&set=a.351585204939178.76024.351012244996474&type=1

Again, let me remind you, no time to speak out against Russia wanting to take gay parents’ children away since it’s not homeschooling related, but plenty of time to go help launch a group that differentiates itself from the Boy Scouts by targeting children in the culture war. Yes, that’s what they’re doing.

They’re putting kids in the cross hairs of the culture wars. It’s kids who are going to get booted out of Trail Life, it’s kids who they want to get booted out of the Boy Scouts. Kids.

Not surprisingly, Farris has a bit of a persecution complex about all of this. Here’s the relevant conversation from the comments on his post.

farris2

Two things here. The first is that as a K-12 homeschooler and homeschool graduate, I’m tired of the media treating Michael Farris as if he speaks for all homeschoolers. He doesn’t. He certainly does not speak for me.

The second is this. When Michael Farris talks about “the homosexual community and their elitist friends and the courts,” he’s painting this as an us versus them battle between his band of conservative Christians on one hand and the aforementioned homosexual community and their elitist friends and the court on the other. He is mistaken. There is no us versus them. There is only “we.”

Not just “we” in the abstract, “We the People,” sense either. “We” as in, the people his movement is fighting against aren’t some “other.”

Mr. Farris, we are you—

—your family members, the kids who sang in the church choir and went to AWANA every week, who were trusted to babysit for other homeschoolers because we were part of the community, the homeschool kids who listened when you said that we were the generation who would change America.

You’re fighting so hard, but you aren’t fighting for liberty, you are fighting to deny liberty to people who are not so different from you.

Mr. Farris, it was your con law book for homeschoolers that inspired me as a teenager to want to go to law school.

I listened to you when you said that homeschoolers were going to change the country and I believed it. If I’m some activist elite, Mr. Farris, it’s because you and the homeschool movement created me. When I worked on an amicus brief in Perry and Windsor, it was because of the seeds you planted in me to go to law school.

We are not others, this is not us versus them, and it never has been, no matter how much you try to make it that way.

Michael Farris’ Strange Allies

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Jones’ blog Anthony B. Susan It was originally published on May 13, 2013.

Michael Farris, chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA) and president of ParentalRights.org, has established himself as a leading figure in the Christian homeschool movement.  His suspicion of the state and his emphasis on parental rights–his definition of liberty.

In my last blog post, I published documentation of homeschool parents’ reactions to revelations of abuse within the Christian homeschool movement. The themes revealed — anti-statism and a consuming, passionate belief that parents know best — reflects in micro the message Farris so effectively peddles at the national level.

These concerns make for some strange bedfellows, as a close examination of ParentalRights.org’s list of allied organizations reveals. Allies include AbleChild, an anti-psychiatry organization affiliated with the Church of Scientology, and Glenn Beck’s Black Robe Regiment. Several allies erroneously link vaccines to autism. These allies include the Canary Party, an anti-vaccination group. Given Farris’ belief that parental rights are absolute, even divinely derived, his alliance with organizations that lobby for the end of state interference in private affairs is not a surprise.

However, the other entries on this list of allies reveals a new facet to Farris’ parental rights advocacy. Nine allies lobby for fathers’ rights, either explicitly or under the guise of ‘parental alienation syndrome’ or ‘shared parenting.’ Superficially, these sound like benign causes. Nobody sane wants to deprive fathers of their rights, or alienate children from their parents. Shared parenting sounds entirely fair–and in many cases, it is.  But further research reveals another, more sinister reality. The overlap between the fathers’ rights movement and men’s rights activism has been well-documented by a variety of media sources. Both are often referred to as the ‘domestic abusers’ lobby’ and with reason. The leaders of Fathers and Families, listed as one of ParentalRights’ allies, actively lobbied against the passage of the Violence Against Women Act.

According to the members of Fathers Unite, another ParentalRights ally, the judicial system systematically discriminates against men in divorce and custody proceedings. This is a common complaint of men’s rights activists. According to the Fatherhood Coalition, yet another ally, this amounts to nothing short of a war on fatherhood itself.  And let’s not forget Farris’ association with Doug Phillips of Vision Forum, an organization that explicitly promotes extreme female submission and discourages the higher education of women. The enemies here are mothers, and by extension, a judicial system that supports them unconditionally.

So why would Farris ally himself with these groups? After all, he supports parental rights, and mothers are parents. The healthy families Farris promotes are, presumably, also free of domestic violence. His alliance with this movement therefore appears to be totally contradictory. But for those of us who grew in conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist families, the reason is obvious: Farris allies with these groups because the only rights he really seeks to preserve are father’s rights. His primary interest is the protection of the patriarchy. No fault divorce, the Violence Against Women Act, and current custody laws threaten paternal supremacy. Farris fights for limited government because the state’s interference in domestic affairs usurps the role his movement assigns to fathers. If Farris and allies succeed in their goal of establishing parental rights as a constitutionally recognized right, the cultural hierarchy he seeks to protect will be successfully embedded in federal law.

And let’s be clear: that is their ultimate goal. Homeschooling is merely a means unto an end.

Michael Farris’ unusual allies are further evidence that he, and the organizations he has founded, have no intention of addressing abuse within their ranks. They can’t. If they acknowledge that abuse is a problem, then the limitations of the cultural hierarchy they promote will become publicly evident and will become more difficult for them to successfully argue that it is superior to mainstream alternatives. Failures in leadership typically demand a change in leadership, and the patriarchy cannot sustain this. If homeschool parents are truly concerned for the well-being of children, it is therefore in their best interest to separate from Michael Farris, HSLDA and their allies.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has more information on the men’s rights movement.