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The Washington Times
April 13, 1999

Alternative institutions are a moral necessity

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
April 13, 1999

My friend Paul Weyrich has been attacked by some and praised by others for his recent public letter on the “death of the moral majority.” In this letter he praises the home schooling movement as an example of the kind of cultural renewal which holds more promise than some of the political tactics which have been the forte of the religious right for the past twenty years.

As a home schooling leader and the former executive director of Moral Majority of Washington (state), I am perhaps in a unique position to comment on Weyrich’s contentions.

It is important to actually examine Weyrich’s letter to get an accurate portrayal of his very important thesis. Many have claimed that he has said that it is time to drop out of politics. In reality his letter says, “I am not quarreling with anybody who pursues politics, because it is important to pursue politics, to be involved in government.”

Let me give my own version of his central thesis. Conservative political activity has failed to deliver the anticipated results. Even though we have been successful in electing presidents (Reagan and Bush) and a Republican majority in Congress, these electoral victories have not translated into the kind of policy changes we expected. Roe v. Wade has not been reversed even though there are seven Republican appointees on the Supreme Court. Pornography may be out of the 7-11s but it is available on every home computer. Homosexual marriages loom as a clear and present danger. And there is much more. We have failed to get policy changes despite our electoral success because the public at large does not share the moral convictions necessary for those political gains to become reality. Clinton was not convicted of high crimes and misdemeanors because a sizable portion of the American public was not outraged by his behavior. The public believes he committed perjury in judicial proceedings and adultery and sexual assault in the anterooms and closets in the White House, but they simply don’t believe it is that wrong. Political leaders are largely cowards driven by anticipated electoral results. Without a huge moral outcry, no conviction was possible. We have the government leaders that reflect the true moral condition of our nation.

Because of this moral collapse, Weyrich argues, we can no longer proceed on the idea that if we simply organize the majority of people who share our values we will win. The majority doesn’t share our values. A new winning strategy must be designed.

Home schooling is featured in his letter as the prototype of the new strategy. Rather than subjecting our children to the institutions that are fully committed to an ideology of political correctness which attacks our values and traditions, we have started our own alternative program for schooling. Weyrich calls for the creation of alternative institutions in other important areas of culture and public life.

And importantly, he urged people to modify the 1960s radical chant and “turn off, tune out, and drop out” in relationship to the current culture. By this he means that we should stop subjecting ourselves and our children to television, video games, and the other forces which are dragging us all down toward the moral abyss.

Weyrich’s conservative critics are appalled at the suggestion that public policy reformation does not merely await a more effective political strategy and increased participation. But these critics fail to grasp that the only way to get the big policy gains they seek is to adopt the strategy he suggests.

Home schoolers are very practiced at creating alternative institutions and protecting both parents and children from the excesses of moral degradation. And we have been involved in politics. Initially, our political involvement was limited to sheer self-preservation. Parents were being threatened, prosecuted, and arrested for trying to create an alternative path for their children’s education. As a result, we organized to fend off the opposition and protect our families. In the course of this, we (along with our children) learned important lessons: the importance of virtue and the practical skills of political organization. The end product of all of this is a generation of children who are being raised to believe in the principles that are necessary for a free and moral government.

There can be no question as to the political results of such a movement. We have seen home schooling become legally accepted in all 50 states. Home schooling parents and children have become politically active in many venues. We recently published an article about 35 home schooling parents who are elected members of Congress and state legislatures. And one significant milestone has already been reached: in the Montana Senate there are more home schooling fathers than lawyers. Thus, we have achieved both electoral and policy success by placing primary focus on the freedom to create alternative institutions.

A free nation requires citizens who participate in self-government and who embrace the moral principles which make representative democracy possible. Political participation alone won’t work. We need to make sure that our children embrace virtue or they won’t be free. Alternative institutions are necessary to ensure that moral people have the freedom to transmit their values to their own children. And they are essential for today’s adults to reinforce those ideas and values that are sometimes clouded by the deluge of immorality that surrounds us.

Weyrich’s ideas are not new, nor would they seem radical to the Founding Fathers. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote: “What are the favorite maxims or democracy? A strict observance of justice and public faith and a steady adherence to virtue. These, sir, are the principles of a good government.” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Let me add that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

If we wish good government, let us have the common sense to protect ourselves and our children from the moral degradation about us. And in the process of doing this, we will run into political opposition when we seek nothing more than the ability to protect our rights to be free and virtuous. And as we learn to defend our rights, a new generation will rise up with the ability, the vision, and the virtue to lead and rule wisely.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and chairman of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

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