An Introduction by HSLDA President J. Michael Smith:

Mike Farris is the reason HSLDA exists today. In 1982, Mike and his wife, Vickie, were homeschooling in Washington State, when school officials said that homeschooling parents had to be certified teachers to teach their children at home. Mike took issue with their position and brought a lawsuit to redress that wrong.

As a result of that lawsuit, his name became known in the homeschool movement. Families across the country who were having legal problems related to homeschooling began contacting him for legal representation.

Quickly recognizing that he couldn’t represent all these families, Mike also discovered there were few attorneys capable and available to represent the homeschool movement anywhere in the US.

So, in 1983 he founded HSLDA to address this need. His idea was to bring a group of homeschooling families together in a membership organization to establish and advance their freedom to homeschool. The battle would take place in the courts, legislatures, and arena of public opinion.

As a result of bringing thousands and thousands of families together through HSLDA over the last 37 years, the freedom to homeschool is now clearly established in every state and expanding across the globe.

Mike Farris is the dominant reason for the freedom that we all are experiencing in homeschooling today, and he continues to be active in the homeschool movement, serving as Chairman of HSLDA’s Board of Directors, and encouraging homeschooling families through his writing and speaking.

He graduated from Western Washington State College, magna cum laude, with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, followed by a Juris Doctor from Gonzaga University (with honors). At Gonzaga, he was article editor of the Law Review and winner of the Linden Cup Moot Court Competition. He also earned an LLM in Public International Law from the University of London.

While leading HSLDA, Mike specialized in constitutional appellate litigation. In that capacity, he has argued before the US Supreme Court, eight federal circuit courts of appeals, and in the highest courts of 13 states. He is also the author of numerous amicus briefs before the US Supreme Court.

During that time, Mike testified many times before both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. He was co-chairman of the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion that successfully lobbied Congress for the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He has also been a leading advocate for the sovereignty of the United States with his successful opposition to various United Nations treaties designed to control American domestic policy.

Mike also has substantial experience in international human rights advocacy. He served for a nearly a decade on the board of Christian Solidarity International—a Swiss-based human rights organization. He served as International Vice President and participated in missions to the Soviet Union and Romania. He has also engaged in private diplomatic missions to China and the Czech Republic.

Mike was the founding president of Patrick Henry College—helping launch a highly regarded Christian educational institution founded on a strong commitment to biblical truth and the classical liberal arts, the twin pillars of education for the founding generations of the United States. At PHC, he taught constitutional law, public international law, and coached the Moot Court team to nine national championships between 2004 and 2016. Although PHC is an undergraduate college, the team competed against law schools (including Yale) in the 2016 Nelson Mandela Human Rights Moot Court Championship. At the tournament, held at the UN in Geneva, PHC won the World Championship.

Mike is a gifted writer and has authored over 15 books, law reviews, other scholarly articles, and countless pieces for the popular press. He has appeared on every national television network, dozens of talk shows, and played himself in a motion picture. He is the author and narrator of a popular video series entitled Constitutional Literacy, and was the co-host of a daily radio show, Homeschool Heartbeat, which aired on nearly a thousand stations.

His work has been recognized by many awards, including the Heritage Foundation’s Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship, and a lifetime achievement award from the Virginia Family Foundation. For his work in home education, Education Week Magazine named him one of the top 100 “Faces in Education” for the 20th century.

Mike and Vickie homeschooled all 10 of their children and now have 26 grandchildren.

He is currently the President and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that defends the freedom of religion and parental rights here and around the world. ADF has won hundreds of cases, and Mike’s leadership and expertise in the legal issues surrounding the state of our nation is instrumental in the tremendous success of ADF.

Mike is a visionary and leader with unbounding confidence. But he is quick to point out that any vocational successes he has enjoyed pale in comparison to his relationship with Jesus Christ. Mike became a Christian as a teenager and has never looked back. He continues to grow in his faith and service to the body of Christ. He founded Blue Ridge Bible Church in 1988, serving as pastor/elder for many years. He currently serves as an elder of Cornerstone Chapel, a church of over 6,000 in Leesburg, Virginia.

The homeschool movement owes a great deal of gratitude to Mike Farris.

Thank you, Mike!

Mike Smith, HSLDA President

* * *

Repeated public studies have demonstrated that the average American is woefully lacking in basic civics knowledge. One study of 28,000 college students found that the average student scored 54% on a 60-question test. That’s a flunking grade. Harvard students got the highest score: 69%, or a D+.[1] Many states have begun enacting new graduation requirements that require high school students to pass a civics exam.

Despite this systemic failure of public education, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Bartholet argues that one of the most serious drawbacks for homeschooling has to do with “preparing students for civic engagement.”[2] But her article quickly reveals that she is not talking about actual civics knowledge, exposure to the Constitution, or even a fair understanding of American history.

Her attacks are all philosophical in character and are based on naked assertions that are simply laughable for people who have spent a reasonable amount of time with homeschooled students.

First, Professor Bartholet claims that homeschool students miss out on extracurricular activities like student government. This, of course, begs the question of how many public school students actually participate in student government. And according to a recent study, very few public high school students participated in student government.[3] Homeschool students, on the other hand, have abundant opportunities to participate in the actual government—the one that runs the United States and the ones that run their local and state communities.

Look, for example, at HSLDA’s Generation Joshua (GenJ)—a youth civics organization that involves thousands of homeschool teens in political advocacy each year. GenJ is widely considered by political professionals to be one of the premier get-out-the-vote programs in the nation. And GenJ offers year-round, world-class civics-education curriculum. There are many other fine organizations, including TeenPact, Patriots Academy, 4-H, and the YMCA, that offer first-class programs in the civics arena.

Professor Bartholet’s key concerns actually relate to philosophical views with which she disagrees. According to her, “a very large proportion of homeschooling parents are ideologically committed to isolating their children from the majority culture and indoctrinating them in views and values that are in serious conflict with that culture.”[4]

Her argument relies on a blend of outlandish error combined with some truth—albeit truth that has been twisted into a sinister charge that says more about Professor Bartholet than it does about homeschoolers.

The number of homeschool students who have no computer access, no smartphones, no friends outside their immediate religious communities, and no interaction with people that are different from themselves is virtually zero. It is utterly false to claim that such situations are “a very large proportion” of the homeschooling movement.[5]

But let’s look at the part of Bartholet’s argument that does contains an element of truth. Many homeschooling parents choose to homeschool because they indeed do want to bring up their children to share their worldview. In my family and among many of the homeschoolers that I know, religion played a major role. But homeschooling is a diverse movement, and many other parents chose to homeschool for other reasons—whether those reasons encompassed ethnic heritage, compassionate service, special needs education, or a faith-based paradigm. And that is their right. And it is a right that is recognized by the whole world—except, apparently, for a few professors at Harvard.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights—note the word “universal”—was enacted by a unanimous vote of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. It contains this simple statement: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”[6] That statement was expanded and explained in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights in 1966, which proclaims that parents have the right to choose alternative schools for their children “to ensure the religious and moral education of their children [is] in conformity with their own convictions.”[7]

Why did the international community endorse this view of parental rights?

The reprehensible experience of child propaganda by the National Socialist Party in Germany during World War II, which drew children away from the private influence of their families and toward the political aims of the state, led the entire world to endorse this strong view of parental rights as one of the pinnacles of human rights protections.[8]

The truth is that Professor Bartholet is not interested in true diversity of ideas. The Ivy League, the vast majority of colleges, and K–12 public education are simply at war with the idea of intellectual or philosophical diversity. Case in point: the Harvard Crimson published a survey just a month before it profiled Professor Bartholet’s article, revealing that 80 percent of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences self-identified as either “liberal” or “very liberal.” In a stark contrast, only about 1.5 percent of respondents identified as “conservative” or “very conservative” . . . truly a showcase of intellectual diversity.[9]  

Students who think differently from the majority on today's campuses are not merely unwelcome: they are sometimes arrested, frequently banished, or otherwise thwarted in their right to even express their views anywhere on campus. The organization I lead now, Alliance Defending Freedom, has successfully litigated over 400 cases against public universities and colleges that have sought to silence conservative and Christian speech by students.

Professor Bartholet is also not interested in diverse views. She wants every child in America to be educated in her values. She is aligned with the forces that banned private education in Oregon in the 1920s. Those pushing the ban argued that all children needed to be cast into the mold of the public schools and formed into “true Americans” who shared the values of the majority in that day.

The two groups most responsible for the passage of this Oregon measure were the Scottish Rite Masons and the Ku Klux Klan.[10] Professor Bartholet’s arguments are right out of their playbook: she advances a philosophy of cynical bigotry while self-proclaiming her adherence to tolerance.

Those educated in civics, government, and constitutional rights ought to recognize that Professor Bartholet is out of step with our American commitments to living in harmony.

She wants everyone to agree with her views by indoctrinating all children in the systems controlled by her and by those who agree with her. True diversity and freedom allow everyone to raise their children in the viewpoints that loving parents choose.

A nation that allows caring parents the liberty to raise and help their children flourish follows universal human rights standards. A nation that follows Professor Bartholet’s approach is a rogue human rights violator.

I propose a true test of commitment to civil liberties. Ask Professor Bartholet if she would say the following statement: “I may oppose everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The homeschoolers I have known over the past 40 years will enthusiastically support this classic statement of American freedom. Would Professor Bartholet agree? If not, perhaps she and supporters of her egregious assertions are the ones who would benefit most from some civics lessons.