Michael Farris, J.D., LL.M.

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Banning homeschooling does not violate rights: U.S. Attorney General’s office

Michael Farris, J.D., LL.M.
By Michael Farris LL.M.

Editor's Note: Michael Farris is the Founder and Chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

February 12, 2013 (HSLDA) - Having immersed myself for about eight days in writing a brief for the Romeike family (a German homeschooling family who fled to the United States for political asylum), I wanted to share some insights I gained into the view of our own government toward the rights of homeschooling parents in general.

You will benefit from some context.

The U.S. law of asylum allows a refugee to stay in the United States permanently if he can show that he is being persecuted for one of several specific reasons. Among these are persecution for religious reasons and persecution of a “particular social group.”

In most asylum cases, there is some guesswork necessary to figure out the government’s true motive—but not in this case. The Supreme Court of Germany declared that the purpose of the German ban on homeschooling was to “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.”

This sounds elegant, perhaps, but at its core it is a frightening concept. This means that the German government wants to prohibit people who think differently from the government (on religious or philosophical grounds) from growing and developing into a force in society.

Dressed-up Totalitarianism

It is thought control. It is belief control. It is totalitarianism dressed up in politically correct lingo.

But my goal today is to not belabor the nature of German repression of homeschooling; rather I seek to reveal the view of the United States government to all of this.

The Romeikes’ case is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The case for the government is officially in the name of the Attorney General of the United States. The case is called Romeike v. Holder. Thus, the brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice is filed on behalf of the attorney general himself—although we can be reasonably certain he has not personally read it. Nonetheless, it is a statement of the position of our government at a very high level.

We argued that Germany is a party to many human rights treaties that contain specific provisions that protect the right of parents to provide an education that is different from the government schools. Parents have the explicit right to give their children an education according to their own philosophy.

While the United States government argued many things in their brief, there are three specific arguments that you should know about.

No Homeschooling? No Problem.

First, they argued that there was no violation of anyone’s protected rights in a law that entirely bans homeschooling. There would only be a problem if Germany banned homeschooling for some but permitted it for others.

Now in reality, Germany does permit some people to homeschool, but it is rare and in general Germany does ban homeschooling broadly—although not completely. (Germany allows exemptions from compulsory attendance for Gypsies and those whose jobs require constant travel. Those who want to stay at home and teach their own children are always denied.)

But, let’s assess the position of the United States government on the face of its argument: a nation violates no one’s rights if it bans homeschooling entirely.

There are two major portions of constitutional rights of citizens—fundamental liberties and equal protection. The U.S. Attorney General has said this about homeschooling. There is no fundamental liberty to homeschool. So long as a government bans homeschooling broadly and equally, there is no violation of your rights. This is a view which gives some acknowledgement to the principle of equal protection but which entirely jettisons the concept of fundamental liberties.

A second argument is revealing. The U.S. government contended that the Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool.

Targeting Individual Rights

This argument demonstrates another form of dangerous “group think” by our own government. The central problem here is that the U.S. government does not understand that religious freedom is an individual right. One need not be a part of any church or other religious group to be able to make a religious freedom claim. Specifically, one doesn’t have to follow the dictates of a church to claim religious freedom—one should be able to follow the dictates of God Himself.

The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear in the past that religious freedom is an individual right. Yet our current government does not seem to understand this. They only think of us as members of groups and factions. It is an extreme form of identity politics that directly threatens any understanding of individual liberty.

One final argument from Romeikes deserves our attention. One of the grounds for asylum is if persecution is aimed at a “particular social group.” The definition of a “particular social group” requires a showing of an “immutable” characteristic that cannot change or should not be required to be changed. We contend that German homeschoolers are a particular social group who are being persecuted by their government.

The U.S. government says that Germany’s ban on homeschooling does not meet this standard because, of course, the family can change—they can simply stop homeschooling and let their children go to the public schools. After all, the U.S. government says, the children are only in public schools 22-26 hours a week. After that the parents may teach what they want.

Faulty Understanding

There are two main problems with this argument. First, our government does not understand that families like the Romeikes have two goals when they chose homeschooling. There are things they want to teach and there are things they want to avoid their children being taught in the government schools.

Does anyone think that our government would say to Orthodox Jewish parents, we can force your children to eat pork products for 22-26 hours per week because the rest of the time you can feed them kosher food?

Freedom for the mind and spirit is as important as freedom for the body and spirit.

This argument necessarily means that the United States government believes that it would not violate your rights if our own government banned homeschooling entirely. After all, you could teach your children your own values after they have had 22-26 hours of public school indoctrination aimed at counteracting religious and philosophical views the government doesn’t like.

The second problem with this argument goes back to the definition of immutability. Immutable means a characteristic that cannot be changed or “should not be required” to be changed.

No one contends that homeschooling is a characteristic that cannot be changed. We simply contend that in a free nation it is a characteristic that should not be required to be changed.

Germany has signed international treaties which proclaim that parental rights are a prior right over any views of the government when it comes to education. In fact, the movement for the adoption of these treaties came in reaction to the world’s horror at broad-ranging attack on human rights that Germany perpetrated in the events surrounding World War II. Nazi Germany believed that the children belonged first to the state. The world community answered that and said, no, parental rights are prior to those of the government.

Eliminating the Right to Choose

When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice—they are saying that it is a characteristic that a government can legitimately coerce you to change. In other words, you have no protected right to choose the education for your children. Our nation could remove your ability to homeschool and your choice would be mutable—since the government has the authority to force you to implement their wishes.

The prospect for German homeschooling freedom is not bright. But we should not reserve all of our concern for the views of the German government. Our own government is attempting to send German homeschoolers back to that land to face criminal prosecutions with fines, jail sentences, and removal of custody of children.

We should understand that in these arguments by the U.S. government, something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers.

The Attorney General of the United States thinks that a law that bans homeschooling entirely violates no fundamental liberties.

It is important that Americans stand up for the rights of German homeschooling families. In so doing, we stand up for our own.

Reprinted with permission from the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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Federal court says NY allowed to ban ‘Choose Life’ plates as ‘patently offensive’

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By Ben Johnson

ALBANY, NY, May 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The pro-life message can be classified as “patently offensive,” a federal appeals court ruled last week. The new opinion came as a three-judge panel ruled that New York state was right to reject a “Choose Life” license plate on the grounds that it may grate on New Yorkers' political sensibilities.

The judges split on whether New York could deny a pro-adoption group the right to have its own license plate, although the state has in the past allowed plates endorsing political causes associated with the liberal viewpoint, such as environmentalism.

Judge Rosemary Pooler, who was appointed by President Clinton, wrote that the state's denial did not harm anyone's right to freedom of expression, because drivers “may display a ‘Choose Life’ bumper sticker — or even cover every available square inch of their vehicle with such stickers. That message will resonate just as loudly as if vehicle displayed a ‘Choose Life’ license plate.”

Judge Debra Ann Livingston, a President George W. Bush appointee, wrote in her dissent that “a proposed custom plate depicting a sun and two smiling children, and bearing the words, ‘Choose Life’ [thought] to be ‘patently offensive’” was “surprising.”

“Pro-adoption organizations should have the same speech rights as any other organization. While the district court affirmed this basic freedom, the circuit court denied free speech in favor of government censorship,” said Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel at ADF. “The state doesn’t have the authority to target The Children First Foundation specialty plates for censorship based on its life-affirming viewpoint.”

The ruling is the lastest round in a legal battle that has raged for more than a decade and, pro-lifers say, seen state officials repeatedly suppress their First Amendment rights.

The Children First Foundation applied for the specialty license plate in 2002, but state officials say the message and design was “too controversial.” In 2004, the Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on CFF's behalf.

New York's Department of Motor Vehicles repeatedly denied the “Choose Life” license plates on the grounds that the message was “patently offensive.”

The same appeals court rejected an effort to suppress the plates made by then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and agreed that Albany officials denied the plates based on viewpoint discrimination.

In 2006, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals noted that CFF “specifically alleges that defendants denied the picture-plate application ‘based on their disagreement with [the] life-affirming viewpoint expressed on the plate.’”

“On a motion to dismiss, we must accept this allegation, and all reasonable inferences drawn from it, as true,” the judges ruled.

Spitzer, a Democrat who strongly supported abortion-on-demand and gay “marriage,” served as governor beginning in 2007 but resigned his office in the midst of a prostitution scandal only 15 months later.

In November 2011, a federal court ruled that “New York has run afoul of the First Amendment by giving the Commissioner unbridled discretion to engage in viewpoint discrimination.”

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Yet the case has dragged on through the appeals process.

“The state has wrongly gotten away with speech discrimination against our client for more than 10 years,” Tedesco said after last week's ruling.

He said ADF is considering its next legal move.

As of this writing, “Choose Life” license plates are available in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

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Michael Coren stands outside St. James Anglican Cathedral as he prepares to be received into the Anglican Communion on April 19, 2015. Anglican Diocese of Toronto / Facebook
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‘Official’ Catholic newspaper defends running pro-abortion piece by Michael Coren

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By Pete Baklinski
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MUENSTER, Saskatchewan, May 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- The Prairie Messenger, described as the "official Catholic newspaper for western Canada," is defending the publication of a piece last week in which ex-Catholic author Michael Coren openly advocates for abortion in the case of rape while saying the notion of “criminalizing abortion” is “repugnant.”

In his piece titled "Seamless garment," Coren — who recently left the Catholic Church to join the Anglican Church of Canada over Catholic teaching on homosexuality — writes that the 10-year-old Paraguayan girl who seized international headlines after becoming pregnant by rape should be legally allowed to abort her baby.

“A terrified little girl victimized by those around her and forced by a government to give birth to the child of her rapist? That is not justice, that is not life, that is not right. God must be weeping,” he writes.

Criminalizing abortion, Coren writes, would “give state legitimization and authority to a minority view and what is to a very large extent a particular religious teaching.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church takes a different position, however. In paragraph 2273, it states that “as a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights." Catholic teaching holds that every human life is sacred since it comes from God. There is no exception for rape. 

For many years, Coren was one of the most prominently pro-life broadcasters in Canada. Calling himself a “journalist for life,” he wrote a column for The Interim, Canada’s life and family newspaper, and was a frequent paid speaker at pro-life events. The Prairie Messenger column appears to be the first time that he has publicly renounced his pro-life position.

Prairie Messenger: “We live in a diverse society where the challenges of daily living cause people to be confronted with difficult circumstances in a world where nothing is black and white."

Rebecca Kiessling, founder of Save The 1, told LifeSiteNews that she was disgusted to see an article in a Catholic newspaper that supports abortion. Kiessling, who was conceived by rape, is a public advocate for those targeted for abortion because they were conceived in rape.

“We are also told in Deuteronomy not to punish a child for the sins of the father and we are not to shed innocent blood. Doing so goes against every concept of justice. I did not deserve the death penalty for the crimes of my biological father. There is a misplaced compassion when anyone wants to kill the innocent child. Punish rapists, not babies,” she said.

Monica Kelsey, who was also conceived in rape, told LifeSiteNews that she was “deeply saddened to hear about Christians standing for the killing of an innocent child.”

“We all agree that this is a situation that deeply saddens us all, but killing this young woman’s child is not going to unrape her. It will further victimize her and, in the process, kill an innocent child.”

“As a child conceived through a brutal attack and rape where my birth mother almost died, I am deeply saddened that Mr. Coren is making an exception for this precious child's life, simply because his father is a rapist. God can get this 10-year-old child through this tough time, but why compound the issue with an abortion? This girl needs us to walk beside her, loving her and helping her make an adoption or parenting plan,” she said.

"This is a life, this is justice for this child. Saving this pre-born child's life is the right thing to do,” she added.

Dolores Castellanos, the doctor who is monitoring the 10-year-old girl in Paraguay, has confirmed that the pregnancy is developing without affecting the health of the infant or the little girl. Nevertheless, the international abortion lobby has latched onto the case as an opportunity to force the small South American country to change its pro-life constitution which currently protects life from the moment of conception.

Prairie Messenger is a weekly Catholic newspaper published by the Benedictine monastic community at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, Saskatchewan. The Diocese of Saskatoon, the Archdiocese of Saint Boniface, and the Archdiocese of Regina are among those that promote the newspaper.

When LifeSiteNews asked Prairie Messenger News Editor Rev. Peter Novecosky, OSB, why it ran a piece from an ex-Catholic who advocates for positions at extreme odds with clear Catholic teaching, spokesperson Maureen Weber responded: “Because we have much to gain by listening to the voices of others.”

“To carry only Catholic columnists who repeat the catechism would mean never hearing and acknowledging the voices of those who are living the hard realities of life on the peripheries, as Pope Francis puts it. Other columnists present other viewpoints that reflect these difficult life issues. Our readers can address these issues when they are presented and, as thinking adults, they need to do more than repeat rote answers.”

Weber said that the editors of Prairie Messenger “refuse to see abortion as a single issue, but rather, as a seamless garment of protection for all of life, both the unborn and the born, support for women, for work toward alleviating the poverty that leads so many women to make desperate decisions, restorative justice rather than harsh sentences with no possibility of rehabilitation, defence policies, health care, policies on the disabled, the aged, euthanasia and assisted suicide.”

“We live in a diverse society where the challenges of daily living cause people to be confronted with difficult circumstances in a world where nothing is black and white,” she said.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, criticized in 2013 those who champion the Church’s moral vision as a “seamless garment” while ignoring actual occasions of real injustice.

“The ‘seamless garment’ image was used to great effect to root the Church’s response to various moral issues — from nuclear proliferation to poverty — within the overarching teaching on the sanctity of human life, from natural conception to natural death,” he said.

“Unfortunately, however, it is also true that the image of the ‘seamless garment’ has been used by some theologians and Catholic politicians, in an intellectually dishonest manner, to allow or at least to justify turning a blind eye to instances of abortion, contraception, or public funding for embryonic stem cell research, as long as these were simultaneously accompanied by opposition to the death penalty or promotion of economic development for the poor - issues which are also part of the fabric of Catholic moral teaching,” he said.

The Prairie Messenger, which acts as the newspaper for a number of dioceses in Western Canada, has faced criticism in the past for opposing Catholic teaching.

In a July 2004 Catholic Insight article titled “A flawed stewardship,” Joe Campbell of Saskatoon, SK, called the Prairie Messenger’s editorial stance “disappointing” for taking what he called a “cafeteria approach to teachings on faith and morals, accepting some while rejecting others.”

Campbell criticized then-editor Rev. Andrew Britz, OSB, for failing to support Church teachings on issues such as the male priesthood, contraception, fornication, and homosexuality.

“Not only has Fr. Britz failed to support certain teachings, but he has repeatedly challenged them. He has managed this in three ways: through his editorials; through regular columnists he has retained; and through unbalanced coverage of certain events and issues,” he wrote at that time.

Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, told LifeSiteNews that a Catholic publication should publish what the Catholic Church teaches.

“Why they would allow this to be published is certainly beyond me. I think it behooves a Catholic publication to stand-up for what the Church actually teaches. Without some counter argument in defense of Church teaching right along side this piece, I think it's wrong to run something like that,” he said.

Contact info for respectful communcations:

Diocese of Saskatoon (home of Prairie Messenger) 
Bishop Donald Bolen
Ph: 306-659-5824 ext. 824
Email: [email protected]

Prairie Messenger 
Rev. Peter Novecosky, OSB
Ph: 306-682-1772
Email: [email protected]

Archdiocese of Saint Boniface
Most Rev. Albert LeGatt, DTh
Ph: 204-237-9858
Email: [email protected]

Archdiocese of Regina
Archbishop Daniel Bohan
Ph: (306) 352-1651
Director of Communications
Bobbi Yanko - ext 230
Email: [email protected]

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Lisa Bourne

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Dutch bishops’ aid group funding Planned Parenthood, Marie Stopes

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By Lisa Bourne

May 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Cordaid, the Dutch arm of the Vatican’s charitable umbrella Caritas Internationalis, is openly promoting contraception and says access to birth control is vital for the good of women in developing countries. The group has also given money to leading international abortion providers Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International.

Cordaid defended itself when questioned by LifeSiteNews. Calling itself a “proud member” of Caritas Internationalis, a representative said that “access to affordable and good-quality family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare are crucial to strengthening the position of women in developing countries and to lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies.”

A new report by the Lepanto Institute details evidence of numerous violations of Church teaching from Cordaid's own website.

In 2012 Cordaid started a program called “Making sexual and reproductive health services work for the next generation” in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cordaid: “Access to affordable and good-quality family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare are crucial to strengthening the position of women in developing countries and to lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies.”

“There is a clear need for sex education and contraception in the African Great Lakes region,” Cordaid wrote of the program. “Its aim is to provide a better future for young generations, reduce childbirth mortality among women through more effective family planning and alleviate poverty among families.”

It began another contraception program the following year in Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda. A Cordaid program distributed condoms in the Congo in 2012, and another worked to provide condoms and other contraceptives in Malawi in 2013, while a third provided condoms in Sierra Leone in 2011 and 2012.

The Cordaid website also shows that it gave the Philippines Planned Parenthood affiliate €220,491 in 2013 for a teen sex-ed program, and partnered with another affiliate in Sierra Leone in 2013 and 2014. Cordaid gave a Marie Stopes affiliate over half a million Euros in 2013 to provide birth control, including sterilization.

Cordaid is not only a member but also a co-founder of Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican’s coalition of Catholic relief, development, and social service organizations. There are 165 members in some 200 countries and territories across the world, and Cordaid is Caritas Internationalis’ local affiliate for the Netherlands.

The head of Caritas Internationalis was released from her position in 2011 amidst internal changes requested by the Vatican, prompted by concerns over the development agency’s Catholic identity. The following year Pope Benedict XVI ordered a reform of Caritas Internationalis.

The Lepanto Institute’s Michael Hichborn criticized Cordaid’s open flaunting of its membership in Caritas Internationalis while obviously disobeying Church teaching.

"With Cordaid boasting its proud membership in Caritas Internationalis while simultaneously fully admitting to dispensing contraception and funding Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International, Caritas has an obligation to expel Cordaid from its rosters," he told LifeSiteNews.

Responding to LifeSiteNews’ inquiry into the report’s specifics, in addition to stating that women benefit from “family planning” services and expressing importance in reducing “unwanted pregnancies,” Cordaid insisted it is not involved in providing abortion.

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“Cordaid's instruments of family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare do not include abortion,” the relief group said.

Cordaid also said it had the esteem of those with whom it collaborates. “Our partners, governments and our funding partners respect the way we, as a proud member of Caritas Internationalis, fulfil our role to build bridges between faith based and non-faith based organizations in north and south.”

“The catholic social teachings are the fundament of our identity and work,” the group added. “The fundamental elements of the catholic social teachings, subsidiarity, solidarity, bonum com unum and human dignity, inspire and guide us in our mission to build flourishing communities in the world’s most fragile and conflict affected areas.”  

LifeSiteNews sent inquiries to Caritas Internationalis regarding Cordaid’s activities in conflict with Church teaching, and did not receive a response before press time.

Hichborn decried the thought of Catholics in the Netherlands funding anti-Catholic initiatives. "Are the bishops of the Netherlands aware of what Cordaid is doing?” he asked. “Do Catholic parishes in the Netherlands take up collections for Cordaid? The Catholic faithful need to be made aware of what is happening in our Church."

Cordaid’s full statement to LifeSiteNews:

As a Catholic organization, Cordaid has long experience in healthcare in developing countries, especially sexual and reproductive healthcare.

In our programs one of our aims is to build bridges between citizens and governments, partners in the North and partners in the South, and bring together both religious and non-religious organizations.

Our long experience has taught us that good, complete and timely information and access to affordable and good-quality family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare are crucial to strengthening the position of women in developing countries and to lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies. Cordaid's instruments of family planning and sexual and reproductive healthcare do not include abortion.

Our partners, governments and our funding partners respect the way we, as a proud member of Caritas Internationalis, fulfil our role to build bridges between faith based and non-faith based organizations in north and south. The catholic social teachings are the fundament of our identity and work. The fundamental elements of the catholic social teachings, subsidiarity, solidarity, bonum comunum and human dignity, inspire and guide us in our mission to build flourishing communities in world’s most fragile and conflict affected areas.   

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