Monday, March 13, was warm in the nation's capital. Washington was finally ridding itself of winter's ice, and the sunshine brought bright promises of spring. But in a small, crowded conference room at the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency, not many took notice of the delightful weather. It was there that the National Center for Home Education and the Home School Defense Association hosted an all-day "Capitol Briefing" to map out battle strategy on several urgent federal legislative issues. Home school representatives from 47 states were in attendance.
The briefing specifically focused on three issues: the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Parental Rights Restoration Act (the name of this legislation has since changed to Parental Rights Act), and abolishing the U.S. Department of Education. Upon arrival, each attendee was provided with a large binder packed with information about all three issues. The very first page presented Boyd's Theory of War: "You win when you present your opponents with unexpected dangers faster than he can adjust to them." After an 8:30 a.m. opening prayer, HSLDA President Michael Farris began discussion on how to do just that.
Issue number 1 was the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Pens flew across paper as Michael Farris and Doug Phillips discussed the legal implications of the U.N. treaty, the reasons we need to act now, and strategy for opposing the ratification of this dangerous document.
Farris stressed that no "reservations, declarations, and understandings" can render this document safe, because the U.N. has the arbitrary power to decide whether or not to accept anything the U.S. writes. In addition, the Clinton Administration has given UNICEF the job of writing the "reservations, declarations, and understandings" for the United States. And even if the "reservations, declarations, and understandings" did somehow limit this treaty, Farris said, "It is unacceptable to give the U.N. any jurisdiction whatsoever over American family policy." A question-and-answer time concluded the one-hour session.
The Parental Rights Act was the next issue up for discussion. Michael Farris explained the need for legislation recognizing parental rights as fundamental. While Supreme Court precedent has repeatedly recognized parental rights as fundamental, conservative judges in lower courts are often unwilling to do so because nothing is written down in black and white. "We are simply putting existing Supreme Court principle into statutory form," Farris said. HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville made the need for legislation even more clear with a presentation of twelve documented "horror stories," cases where social service workers and courts dramatically overstepped their bounds and trampled parents' rights. After discussing political strategy and answering questions, the group welcomed its first featured speaker.
Representative Dick Armey of Texas entered the room amidst a thunderous standing ovation. Home schoolers well remember Armey for his strong defense of their rights during last year's H.R. 6 battle. Representative Armey spent some time reminiscing about that battle and discussing how things in Washington have changed since last November's elections. Moving on to pressing issues, he informed the group of a bill before the House allowing a $500 tax cut per child for every American family (part of the GOP's "Contract with America"). According to Armey, some Republican congressmen were "having second thoughts" on this provision, and he called on home schoolers to urge their Representatives to support this bill.
A lighter moment occurred when Armey was asked for the specific bill number of this legislation. Unable to remember, the congressman instructed his aide to call the office and find out. The aide returned a few minutes later with the answer: "Sir, it's H.R. 6." The room exploded, and Armey brought down the house with, "You go home and explain to the kids why you're FOR H.R. 6 this year!"
Armey concluded by exhorting home schoolers to remain "unrelentingly persistent" in the political arena. He told the group that freedom-loving congressmen are in unfriendly territory on Capitol Hill, and that hearing from constituents emboldens these congressmen to act on their principles. Armey also encouraged home schoolers to contact those congressmen who don't believe in freedom, saying, "Politicians have a very minimal pain threshold."
The applause for Representative Armey had barely died down before Michael Farris moved the meeting on to the next issue: abolishing the federal Department of Education. Farris explained the difference between the two main approaches to eliminating the Department of Education. One camp merely wants to "trim the fingernails" of the department, downgrading it to an office, cutting the budget, and spreading its functions around to other government agencies. The other camp wants to truly eliminate the federal role in education and return education to its rightful owners under the 10th Amendment: the states. Farris emphasized the importance of building diverse coalitions within the community to support eliminating the federal role in education. The discussion ended with more questions, answers, and strategy.
The second speaker of the day was Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, a great hero of parental rights. Senator Grassley gave a strong speech in which he emphasized the importance of the family. "The family is the foundation of our society and the strength of our nation," Grassley said. We must keep fighting for family values, he continued, because "the government views a whole different set of values as important." The senator explained that, however well intentioned, the state cannot replace the compassion and personal contact of the family. "The family, Grassley stated, "is the soul of our country."
Senator Grassley spoke enthusiastically of his intention to introduce the Parental Rights Act to the Senate. Grassley reminded the group of last year's hard-fought battle to attach his parental rights amendment to Goals 2000. Without established fundamental parental rights, we will have to continue fighting these tough battles one after another. But with the PRA, the senator said, "We would establish a broad and fundamental right across the board. We would no longer have to fight one battle at a time."
Senator Grassley concluded with the reminder, "Representative government is a two-way street." He exhorted constituents to communicate with members of Congress, and to expect answers. The group thanked Senator Grassley with a rousing standing ovation.
With full brains but empty stomachs, the home schoolers proceeded to lunch in the hotel's aptly-named "Hall of Battles." Discussion and small talk abounded over monstrous sandwiches and potato salad, as old friends greeted each other for the first time in months.
The hubbub turned to loud applause as presidential candidate Pat Buchanan took the podium to address the group. Buchanan stated that one of the most important questions of our day is: "what is the federal government responsible for, and what is left to the states?"
Buchanan made clear his belief that education is one area better left to the states. He cited a $200 million federal grant for controversial National History Standards intended, he said, to "poison the minds of America's children about the history of our country." (The history curriculum in question contained, for example, one reference to General Ulysses S. Grant, none to General Robert E. Lee, and seventeen references to the Ku Klux Klan.) Buchanan pledged to abolish the Department of Education if elected.
Pat Buchanan had much to say about international politics and U.S. foreign policy. He attacked the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, calling it an erosion of U.S. sovereignty and parental rights. As soon as he is elected, Buchanan said, "The whole New World Order is going to come crashing down."
In conclusion, Pat Buchanan declared, "We are at the beginning. We are at 1775. We have good days and dark days ahead of us, but we can reclaim our country." How do we start such a revolution? Well, someone like Patrick Henry starts first, Buchanan said. "Then someone says, 'He's sort of a wild man, but maybe he's right.'" And thus a revolution begins. Buchanan took the time to answer questions, and then he stepped down from the podium amidst an enthusiastic ovation, home school-style.
It was an inspired group of home schoolers who made their way back to the conference room for the afternoon's speakers. First up was U.S. Representative and home-schooling father Dave Weldon from Florida. Representative Weldon began by praising home education. He described his first encounter with home-schooled students, which led him to choose a home education for his children.
Weldon stated that the public education system, under the control of the federal government, has been divorced from the community and thus from change. He cited several statistics showing the decline of public education over the last thirty years. Weldon stated his strong support for eliminating the Department of Education and the National Education Goals.
Representative Weldon closed with a call for home schoolers to be involved in all areas of the political realm, not just those which affect them directly. He praised home schoolers' commitment to education and political activism.
The second presidential candidate of the day arrived in the form of fiery California Representative Bob Dornan. Representative Dornan chose "virtue" as his topic, sharply contrasting the virtue of our nation's founders with that of our nation's current leaders. He quoted William Butler Yeats to describe the state of virtue today: "Everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned."
Dornan stated that just as a "cultural meltdown" is occurring, so also the Republican party is starting to melt down. The congressman chastised members of his party for their "craven cowardice" on social issues. "The social issues are more important than the economic issues," Dornan said. "What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?"
The exciting speakers continued with Representative Steve Stockman, a dynamic Texas freshman congressman who makes no apologies for his Christian faith. Representative Stockman told of God's powerful intervention in his election campaign, where he surprised everyone by unseating 42-year incumbent Jack Brooks. In fact, God's power surprised even Stockman, who said he was amazed by the miraculous answer to his wife's prayers. One by one, Mrs. Stockman took specific requests for desks, phones, and funds to the Lord, and one by one they were granted. "Statistically, we weren't supposed to win," said Stockman, "but biblically we were."
Stockman encouraged the home schoolers to "fight the good fight." Though our enemies mock us, he said, "at the end of the day they will come to those they view as strong."
Asked for his opinion on the Department of Education, Stockman gave it without hesitation: "I think we should eliminate the Department of Education." He followed up with his favorite question to ask those who favor federal control of education: "If you care more for the education of my children than I do, what are their names?"
"Of course they never can get it right," Stockman said. "I don't have any children."
The final speaker of the day was Paul Webster from Representative Steve Largent's office. In a brief statement on the congressman's behalf, he said that Largent's top two priorities on Capitol Hill are to stand for the family and to stand for Jesus Christ.
Webster said that when Representative Largent considers legislation, he always asks, "Is this the appropriate role for the federal government?"
Representative Largent is thrilled to be the sponsor of the Parental Rights Act in the House of Representatives, and his aide delivered this message to the assembled home schoolers: "You have our enthusiastic support."
With the meeting near conclusion, the group took time to share testimonies and prayer requests, and closed in prayer. As the home schoolers chatted, hugged each other goodbye, and got ready to catch taxis and board planes home, there was an overwhelming sense not of ending but of beginning. The troops were now armed with information, briefed on the plan of action, encouraged by the word from the front lines, and ready for the imminent battle. The army left Washington prepared and alert for the action signal.