Attorney: Home-schoolers must defend parental rights

Christopher Klicka
Christopher Klicka, senior legal counsel with the Home School Legal Defense Association, told parents gathered for a home-school convention in Lansing that, “Our rights are at risk. Our values are at risk. We need to be ready and willing to fight.”

Home-school parents should prepare once again to resist efforts by Congress to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a home-school attorney and advocate said recently.

Speaking at a home-school conference sponsored by the Information Network for Christian Homes, Christopher Klicka said that while the convention calls for safeguards against childhood prostitution and slavery - "and we're already opposed to that" - it also calls for children's rights to freedom of religion, expression, privacy, education and access to media.

Even in Michigan, where home-school protections rank among the best in the country, Klicka said he regularly receives phone calls from parents who say they have been contacted by truant officers, social workers or other authorities with demands for access or information.

"They have the right to watch TV," Klicka said, tongue in cheek, as parents in the audience sighed.

Klicka is senior counsel with the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Virginia- based firm that specializes in home-school law, policy and legislation. His keynote address was part of a two-day series of lectures and workshops that drew about 2,000 Michigan home-school parents and children to the Lansing Center in May.

In an overview of home-school legal issues, Klicka told parents to be ready to contact legislators to protest ratifying the U.N. treaty as well as to prevent any changes to the federal Keeping Children and Families Safe Act. However, he said, parents should push for adoption of a parental rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

"Your rights as parents are worth fighting for," he said.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and opened it for signatures and ratification by the world's nations. The United States has signed but not ratified the convention, a fact that Klicka attributed partly to pressure from home-schoolers. He said he expects the 54-article treaty to receive renewed attention under the Obama administration.

"We've got to make sure that this doesn't get ratified. We did this once before," he said.

The treaty calls on participating nations to ensure that children's rights are protected and to submit regular progress reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but Klicka said existing U.S. law is sufficient to protect children here.

According to an April report by the Congressional Research Service, U.S. citizens who support the treaty generally point to the need to protect children from government intrusion and abuse, while opponents say it undermines parental rights and could weaken U.S. sovereignty.

Klicka focused on the parental rights arguments, saying that the convention language would give authorities a new way to bring legal action against home-schoolers in cases that essentially puts the parent's lifestyle or beliefs on trial.

"It's not the child that's going to exercise it (treaty rights). It's the social worker," he said.

He cited his association's work in West Virginia as evidence of legal action based on lifestyle.

In that state, lawyers can attend continuing education courses that make them eligible to represent children in cases involving guardianship and child welfare, he said. As part of the coursework, they are taught how to identify abusive parents.

In one class, he said, the instructor told the attorneys that potential abusers include parents who are church deacons, parents who "use Scripture to control their kids," or parents who restrict their children's freedom.

"She described perfectly you and me," Klicka said. "When we (HSLDA) saw it, we went to the West Virginia Supreme Court and they pulled it ... That's what we're faced with."

In a related issue, Klicka said home-schoolers should make sure Congress doesn't weaken provisions in the federal Keeping Children and Families Safe Act that protect families from nuisance investigations based on anonymous tips. While the act is intended to prevent child abuse and help abuse victims, it once led to thousands of cases in which child welfare workers demanded access to home-schools without stating a reason, as well as to interview children outside their parents' presence, Klicka said.

The act was later amended to require workers to state the reason for their visit at first contact, thus giving parents the opportunity to deny entry without a legal warrant.  Another amendment required that workers be trained in citizens' Constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

"These aren't 'bad' families being turned in," Klicka said. "It's just regular home-schools."

Even in Michigan, where home-school protections rank among the best in the country, Klicka said he regularly receives phone calls from parents who say they have been contacted by truant officers, social workers or other authorities with demands for access or information.

Klicka commended U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan, now a Michigan gubernatorial candidate, for introducing the Parents' Rights Constitutional Amendment to Congress. The amendment would recognize the fundamental right of parents to direct their child's upbringing, he said.

"It's a battle," Klicka said, acknowledging the lengthy process that amending the Constitution requires, "but it's something we can do on the offense."

Well known in home-school circles, Klicka received a standing ovation from the hundreds of people in the audience as he discussed how multiple sclerosis has affected his work and also recounted stories from the early years of Michigan homeschooling.

In addition to Klicka, the INCH convention hosted more than 40 speakers on topics ranging from learning disabilities to math instruction to typical home-school challenges.

More than 100 vendors staffed booths at the event, selling curriculum and classroom goods, and handing out information on summer camps, sports leagues and field trip destinations.

Liz and Dave Rider, home-school parents from Dewitt, told Michigan Education Report that the convention is motivational as well as practical. With four children ranging in age from 11 to 17, one of her challenges is to adapt her teaching style to match each child's learning style, Liz Rider said.

Meanwhile, Dave Rider is Scoutmaster of a home-school Boy Scout troop in the Lansing area.

"It's a full life in homeschooling," he said.


Lorie Shane is the managing editor of the Michigan Education Report, the Mackinac Center’s education policy journal. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that Michigan Education Report is properly cited.