Families Taking Action Together Through CAP?
Would you like to get involved in a project that will take the worldview training in your home and make it practical to your children? There can be no better activity than to join together as a family to ensure that parental rights are protected in the future.
Back in the early ’90s, Home School Legal Defense Association initiated the Congressional Action Program (CAP), designed to give homeschoolers a powerful lobbying voice on Capitol Hill through both grassroots and direct lobbying.
|J. Michael Smith, President of Home School Legal Defense Association.
At that time, CAP had two prongs. The first prong was a phone tree in each congressional district with a minimum of 200 callers and one CAP district coordinator (yes, phone trees were the archaic way in which we used to get the word out within the homeschool community). The idea was that if a bill was up for a vote in a particular committee, and a congressman on that committee was from one of the districts where we had a phone tree, we would activate the phone tree and 200 homeschoolers in that district would call the congressman to vote in favor of homeschool freedom. Two hundred phone calls in a matter of hours, if not minutes, have a tremendous impact on any congressman.
CAP’s second prong consisted of families located in the Washington, D.C., area who were trained to lobby their own representatives and senators, as well as other key legislators, on given pieces of legislation and policy issues. These families lobbied together as families. We found that congressmen, senators, and congressional aides were really impressed with the families—especially with the children. They would ask the children questions about whether or not they liked being homeschooled, and what they
liked best about homeschooling. Many legislators and staffers, never before having encountered homeschoolers, were surprised by the precocious ability of these children to eloquently express themselves while making eye contact.
Two particular situations strongly demonstrated CAP’s effectiveness. When the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was initially referred by the Clinton administration to the Senate for ratification in the mid 1990s, HSLDA distributed an information packet with position papers explaining how the UNCRC could potentially override the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children. This lobbying effort was very effective, and the Senate never attempted to vote on the Convention.
During this time, Senator Robert Dole
of Kansas made the mistake of endorsing the UNCRC on a conservative talk show. Horrified by the senator’s endorsement,
one of our member families notified us
the next morning. We immediately
contacted the Kansas CAP coordinator, who initiated the phone tree. Many homeschoolers contacted Senator Dole’s office, expressing their concern about the senator’s endorsement and asking him to reverse it. Later that day, a CAP volunteer visited Dole’s Capitol Hill office to explain why the UNCRC was bad for America, to
share HSLDA's information packet, and to ask the senator to thoughtfully reconsider his endorsement.
By the end of that day, we had received a call from Senator Dole’s chief aide indicating that the senator had previously been given incorrect information about the Convention, but that he was now in opposition to it. As a point of pride, I’d like to mention that my wife, Elizabeth, had the privilege of being the CAP lobbyist who visited Senator Dole’s office requesting him to change his position.
The second and most dramatic situation in which CAP played an effective role occurred in 1994 during the infamous battle of House Resolution (H.R.) 6, a 1,300-plus-page education reauthorization bill. You may recall that a dangerous amendment was attached to H.R. 6. This amendment would have required states receiving federal money to mandate that all teachers in all schools have not only a teaching credential for the state in which they taught, but a credential in every subject they taught. Then-Texas Representative Dick Armey, working with HSLDA, submitted a request to the House Committee on Education and Labor that the amendment be rewritten to indicate that only public school teachers would be required to be certified.
The request for a rewritten amendment failed, however, leaving us no choice but
to activate the CAP phone trees. For 10 days before H.R. 6 came to the House
floor for a vote, homeschoolers across America and around the world bombarded Washington, D.C., with phone calls.
Over one million phone calls into the
Capitol switchboard were logged during that 10-day period. Simultaneously with the phone calls, our local CAP lobbyists visited every congressman at least three times, leaving continuously updated
information packets pointing out why
the H.R. 6 amendment would be bad not only for homeschoolers, but for public schools and private schools as well. When the vote came, the amendment failed 415 to 1. The Congressional Action Program served homeschoolers well.
Since then, due to the friendlier nature of the congressional makeup in Washington, D.C., and the advent of email, CAP was placed on the back burner. But now, we believe the time has come to bring CAP back. HSLDA has already held one basic training session for CAP lobbyists, with families from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia participating. We are preparing for the future, should things start changing for the worse in Congress regarding parental rights and homeschool freedoms.
CAP has been a tremendous benefit
to my own family and our homeschool program. My wife and two of our
children—Andrew and Erin—were
trained in the Congressional Action
Program. They spent many hours in the halls of Congress, visiting senators and representatives and spreading the good news of home education. It was an activity we shared as a family, and we all benefited greatly through it.
Since the children have graduated from homeschooling and reached their adult years, they have become very active in politics. Both have participated in numerous campaigns and have held high positions within their political party. Those times spent together as a family were invaluable and some of the most enjoyable and productive of our homeschooling years.
There is no better way for parents and children to build relationships than to work together for a common cause that requires some significant effort. HSLDA Chairman and General Counsel Michael Farris has laid out a solid argument for why we need a constitutional amendment protecting parental rights, and I hope that many of you and your children will become educated on the issue and respond with action when the call arises. Please consider your involvement as a family, both in CAP and in the efforts to bring about a constitutional amendment that will protect parental freedoms in the future.