House Judiciary Committee Unanimously Votes to Recommend Restoration of First Amendment Freedom
On March 24, House Judiciary Committee voted 39-0 to recommend the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to the floor of the House of Representatives for approval. The purpose of the RFRA is to reverse the 1990 Supreme Court decision in Employment Division v. Smith (Smith II) which rejected a 340-year American legal tradition favoring religious liberty when it held that the free exercise of religion was no longer a “fundamental right” worthy of the same protection as other First Amendment rights. To counter this direct attack on religious liberty, Mike Farris, President of HSLDA, participated in the drafting of the RFRA, and helped to lead a broad-based coalition of organizations favoring religious liberty.
Just two weeks prior to the vote in the House Judiciary Committee, home schoolers participating in the National Center’s Congressional Action Program visited over 100 key congressmen urging them to support the RFRA.
The RFRA, which enjoys support from the National Association of Evangelicals, the Christian Legal Society, Concerned Women of America and a host of conservative and evangelical groups, was initially opposed by Congressman Henry Hyde (R-6th-IL) and the Catholic Conference of Bishops. After careful reconsideration, both Congressman Hyde and the Catholic Conference have decided to endorse the RFRA. In fact, at the March 24 hearing, Hyde publicly pledged his support for the measure. With the addition of various Roman Catholic organizations as supporters of the bill, there appears to be a broad consensus within the pro-life, pro-family community that the RFRA should be supported.
Home Schoolers Blanket Congress
Over sixty home schoolers from the Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. metropolitan area attended the March 9 training program of the Congressional Action Program. These “Capitol Coordinators” were given training on how to successfully lobby Congress and appeal to leaders to make wise decisions on issues which directly affect the home school family. In addition to receiving intensive training on how to positively influence legislation, the Capitol Coordinators were thoroughly briefed on pending legislative threats to home school liberty. Particular attention was focused on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Clinton Administration’s plan to introduce mandatory vaccination legislation that would make parental failure to vaccinate a child tantamount to child abuse or neglect, and would create a national databank for registering and tracking children.
The Capitol Coordinators were treated to visits by two United States Congressmen, Robert Goodlatte (R-6th-VA) and Don Manzullo (R-16th-IL), who visited the CAP seminar to pledge their support for parental rights and home school freedoms. A highlight of the day was the 45 minute address by Congressman Manzullo, America’s only home-schooling United States Congressman. In a fiery and hard hitting talk, Manzullo exhorted home schoolers to get serious about promoting righteousness in the land by praying for our leaders and becoming personally involved in the political process. On a personal note, Manzullo explained that his faith as a Christian and the necessity of giving his family top priority were behind his decision to home educate his children. Both Congressman Goodlatte and Manzullo emphasized the importance of home school families coming to Capitol Hill to make personal contacts with the members of Congress.
After receiving a morning of training and listening to the encouraging address by Congressman Manzullo, the Capitol Coordinators were ready to make their first contacts with United States Representatives, Senators and Congressional staffers. During that first day of lobbying, home schoolers visited over 100 Congressional offices. The stated purpose of the visit was to make initial contact with the Congressmen and to deliver information packets on home schooling. The results were outstanding. Several Congressmen and staffers expressed support for home schooling. Others mentioned that they had never met a home schooler before, but this visit had left such a favorable impression on them that they would be supportive of it in the future. Many expressed appreciation for having the opportunity to ask frank questions about home education to the children as well as to the parents. On more than one occasion, the articulate answers of the children who participated with their parents were useful in turning a meeting where there were obvious hostilities to home education into a favorable reception.