HSLDA Renews Opposition to UN Disabilities Treaty

Back to my coverage of HSLDA and the Christian homeschool movement today, thanks to their latest onslaught on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty, which guarantees a set of basic legal rights to disabled adults and children in signatory states, is set for a June 4th hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The arguments marshalled by the HSLDA in anticipation of this hearing reiterates the same rhetorical themes I’ve previously documented: a fear of the state, and a fierce defense of parents’ rights that does not acknowledge the complementary rights of children.

The HSLDA’s opposition to the treaty can be briefly summarized. Specifically, they believe  that the treaty grants the UN the legal right to interfere in private parental decisions, which by extension includes the decision to homeschool. Homeschooling is never mentioned in the treaty, and the treaty itself contains no stipulations not already domestically enforced, primarily through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But this isn’t enough for the HSLDA. The global focus of the UN treaty merely compounds their paranoia regarding the state: this is statism on an international scale, a supranational entity with, allegedly, supranational power. The real level of influence possessed by the UN is debatable, particularly in this instance, given that the treaty as proposed does not contradict US law on the subject.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has provided further guarantees that the United States would not change its laws in order to adhere to the UN treaty. The HSLDA insists, though, that this is not the case, in hyperbolic rhetoric that also promises a a moratorium on spanking, involuntary public school attendance, and “nothing less than the complete eradication of parental rights for the education of children with disabilities.” Not once does the HSLDA acknowledge the existence of children’s rights or even recognize the need for specialized education for children with disabilities. The emphasis is, again, entirely on parents and parental rights.

I write this post as a person with disabilities: I was born with dehydrated hereditary stomatocytosis, an extremely rare genetic blood disorder that causes chronic fatigue and pain. I actively benefit from the Americans with Disabilities Act, for DHS and for earlier adolescent struggles with anxiety and depression. The ADA has protected my right to an education and my right to work without discrimination. And it is from this perspective that I approach the UN treaty the HSLDA has so strenuously opposed. The HSLDA has ignored the voices of disabled adults and children and therefore I feel it necessary to present that voice. Disabled Americans are no strangers to self-advocacy. Yet this self-advocacy is itself a privilege, one often denied to disabled children. The HSLDA believes that parents have the natural right to make decisions for disabled children; this is embodied in HSLDA President Michael Smith’s assertion that ‘parents know best how to care for children with disabilities.’ This language is telling, and not only because it utterly contradicts the reality that doctors and trained special educators possess beneficial expertise that parents do not. Parenting is not framed as a privilege. In fact, the HSLDA omits any mention of certain responsibilities parents might just owe their children. Instead, children are once again located as intrinsically inferior, a class entirely without agency or indeed, any rights of their own.

This framework oppresses able-bodied and disabled children alike, but the consequences are particularly pronounced for disabled children, who are already often rendered invisible by the stigmas associated with their conditions. The HSLDA’s opposition to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is further evidence that the HSLDA’s primary concern isn’t the protection of vulnerable children, but the transmission of literalist Christian doctrines. It is unlikely that, if enacted, the UN treaty poses any immediate threat to the Christian homeschool movement. The true threat is represented by the implications of the treaty’s recognition that children possess certain inalienable rights.

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