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Five Landmark Homeschool Freedom Cases

October 21–25, 2013   |   Vol. 117, Programs 36–40

For 30 years, HSLDA has helped secure homeschooling freedom for families in all 50 of the United States of America. This week on Home School Heartbeat, hosts Mike Farris and Mike Smith recall five landmark cases that have helped parents exercise liberty to educate their children at home.

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Over the past 30 years, HSLDA has won some landmark cases that have helped secure your right to homeschool. Today on Home School Heartbeat, HSLDA founders Mike Farris and Mike Smith discuss a 1993 case in which the Michigan Supreme Court struck down a law that had been used to ban homeschooling!

Mike Smith: I’m joined today by my very good friend and founder of HSLDA, Mike Farris!

Mike Farris: Hi, Mike. Good to be with you.

Mike Smith: Mike, this year HSLDA is celebrating, as you know, our 30th anniversary. We’ve had some major legal victories over the years. Which cases do you think have been the most groundbreaking for homeschooling?

Mike Farris: Well, Mike, we could talk about a lot of important cases, but since we have five programs, I think I’ll mention the five cases that I think are the most important, and I’ll start with a case in Michigan called People v. DeJonge. Chris and Mark DeJonge were homeschooling their kids in Michigan. The law of Michigan there at the time required you to be a certified teacher in order to teach your kids at home. We argued that that was a violation of their fundamental rights under religious freedom and parental rights as a blend, and we were able to convince 4-3 majority of the Michigan Supreme Court to rule the Michigan law to be unconstitutional.

Mike Smith: Why was that important, Mike, for the rest of the homeschool community?

Mike Farris: Well, the big weapon that the rest of the states were using at the time was to require you to be a licensed, certified state teacher. And if that was the rule, then virtually no one could homeschool. So, it was a way to effectively ban homeschooling.

Mike Smith:Well, Mike, thanks for telling us about this important victory, today. We’ll look forward to more important victories next time. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Mike Farris, founder of HSLDA, joins me again today to talk about some of the biggest cases in HSLDA’s history. Mike, just five years ago, homeschooling was declared illegal in the state of California by the Court of Appeals for the Second District. How did HSLDA respond to this judgment?

Mike Farris: Mike, we hadn’t been involved in the original trial of this case, and when it came to light when the Court of Appeals announced its decision, we went to the lawyers who were representing the family and urged them to file a motion for rehearing that we ghostwrote for them. The motion for rehearing, to everyone’s surprise, was granted, and the Court held a second hearing with a lot of briefing, and so on.

Mike Smith: So what happened after that, Mike?

Mike Farris: Well, one of the things that was the most impressive about the response was help came from all over the country. There were a good number of organizations—some homeschool organizations, California-based groups, and other groups that were interested—worked very hard. The Alliance Defense Fund worked very hard, among others. And we had a team effort. To everyone’s great surprise and joy, the court reversed themselves and ruled that homeschooling was authorized in California and was protected by the Constitution.

Mike Smith: Well, what an encouraging victory for homeschoolers, not only in California, but for the rest of the country as well! Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Mike, will you give us the gist of what happened in the case of Calabretta v. Floyd?

Mike Farris: The Calabretta case was one of our early Fourth Amendment cases where we won a victory on the basis that social workers and police officers, when they’re conducting home investigations of children, have to comply with the normal rules of the Fourth Amendment, which means you have to have probable cause and a warrant or probable cause and evidence of an emergency: both of those things. And they didn’t have probable cause: they had an anonymous tip in this scurrilous fashion were somebody called in and said, “I heard a child’s voice in the middle of the night saying, ‘No, no, no.’” That doesn’t constitute probable cause.

Mike Smith: Since that case was decided in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, not the Supreme Court, does it help protect parental rights all across the country?

Mike Farris: Well, it established a clear precedent, a binding precedent, in the states within the Ninth Circuit, basically all of the west of the United States. But the rule is the Fourth Amendment binds social workers and police officers when they’re conducting child abuse investigations.

Mike Smith: Mike, I’ve heard you say many times that if we don’t stand for our constitutional rights, we’ll lose them. And I tell you, HSLDA will continue to be on the front lines working to secure constitutional rights for families that teach their children at home. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Mike, this week we’ve heard about HSLDA’s victories in Michigan and California. Is there another case that you consider one of the most important landmark cases in homeschooling history?

Mike Farris: Well, Mike, the case of Texas Education Agency v. Leeper that’s almost 30 years old is one where we played not the role of the lawyers, but we were the plaintiffs in the case, and we had a Texas lawyer that we were working with on the side who actually did the litigation for us. In that case, the basic argument was that homeschoolers can be considered private schools within the meaning of the Texas law. The private schools in Texas have a whole lot of freedom and aren’t subject to the detailed kind of regulation that private schools face in other states. And the key idea of homeschoolers being able to establish themselves as a private school opened a door not only for Texas but for a number of other states, which had opened private school-kind of approaches. That case was won in the Texas Supreme Court, and we were really proud to be a part of that case.

Mike Smith: Well, I know that we were both thankful that we’ve had the opportunity at HSLDA to help grow and protect the freedom to homeschool for the past 30 years, and we’ll continue to do so. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Mike, you’ve already told us about the victory for homeschooling in California with the Calabretta case. Now will you tell us about a similar victory in North Carolina that HSLDA won?

Mike Farris: The Stumbo family had a cat, and their little girl wandered outside following the cat, and both the cat and the little girl had on the same amount of clothes, and the little girl’s about 2 years old. She was outside for about a minute. An anonymous tip came in that this girl was in danger because she was standing on the front porch. They live out, way out in the country, she wasn’t anywhere near the road, there was no danger whatsoever. But the social worker showed up, demanded to come in the house, and demanded to search the family, ask the 2-year-old questions about why she was outside, and we went up to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Mike Smith: And what happened there, Mike?

Mike Farris: Well, the Court ultimately ruled that it would violate the Fourth Amendment for the social workers to force their way into this family’s home and to forcibly interview the children, because they have to have probable cause of wrongdoing of some sort to either get a warrant or an emergency application. That wasn’t present here, and that’s the rule that we need to preserve.

Mike Smith: Mike, thank you for sharing with us this week about these major victories that HSLDA has been blessed with. And thank you personally for the role you’ve had in every one of these. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Farris:

Michael Farris is the chancellor of Patrick Henry College and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He was the founding president of each organization.

Farris is a constitutional appellate litigator who has served as lead counsel in the United States Supreme Court, eight federal circuit courts, and the appellate courts of 13 states.

He has been a leader on Capitol Hill for over 30 years and is widely known for his leadership on homeschooling, religious freedom, and the preservation of American sovereignty.

At Patrick Henry College, Farris teaches constitutional law, public international law, and coaches PHC’s Moot Court team which has won six national championships.

A prolific author, Farris has been recognized with a number of awards including the Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship by the Heritage Foundation and as one of the “Top 100 Faces in Education for the 20th Century” by Education Week magazine.

Mike and Vickie Farris have 10 children and 14 grandchildren.

Mike Smith:

Michael Smith and his wife Elizabeth, along with Michael Farris and his wife, Vickie, incorporated Home School Legal Defense Association in 1983 and were the original board members. Mike grew up in Arkansas, graduated from the University of Arkansas where he played basketball, majoring in business administration. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Navy and served three years before attending law school at the University of San Diego.

In 1972, he was admitted to the bar in California and also has been admitted to the Supreme Court of the United States. He is licensed in Virginia, California, and Washington, D.C.

Mike and his family began homeschooling because their 5-year-old flunked kindergarten. This was quite a disappointment to Mike in light of the fact that he was preparing this child to be President of the United States by starting his education as early as possible.

His family’s life changed drastically when he heard a radio program in 1981 which introduced him to the idea of homeschooling. When they started homeschooling, they began homeschooling one year at a time to meet the academic and social needs of their children. After spending lots of time around people like Mike Farris, he became convinced he had been called to use his gifts and talents in the legal profession to assist homeschoolers who were being prosecuted because they didn’t hold a teacher’s certificate or satisfy the school district that they could competently teach their children.

Mike came to HSLDA full-time in 1987 and has served as president of the organization since the year 2001. In addition to serving as president, he also is a contact lawyer for California, Nevada and Puerto Rico. All of Mike’s children are now grown, and three of the four were homeschooled. The most enjoyable part of Mike’s job is when he is able to go to homeschool conferences and meet what he calls America’s greatest heroes, homeschooling moms.

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