Yesterday, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) released a public statement regarding blogger Libby Anne’s recent coverage of its defense of the Gravelles, a homeschool family accused of horrific child abuse. Libby Anne, an ex-homeschooler and a survivor of religious abuse, has meticulously researched the HSLDA’s consistent opposition to child welfare legislation that acknowledges children’s rights. A screenshot of HSLDA’s statement, made via its official Facebook page, is available. It addresses a mere portion of Libby Anne’s coverage, but that is itself notable. HSLDA states unequivocally that they will represent any family in a homeschooling dispute. That policy is responsible for its defense of the Gravelle family: despite the suspicious death of a child in the Gravelles’ care and mounting evidence of child neglect and abuse, HSLDA will defend their right to homeschool.
This policy likely appears nonsensical to anyone unfamiliar with the HSLDA or the Christian homeschooling movement. But a critical examination of HSLDA’s rhetoric reveals certain common themes: an emphasis on parental rights, suspicion of the state, and the absolute right to privacy. These rights are, obviously, quite selective. There is no recognition that children themselves possess rights and agency, or that the state has a right to protect the welfare of children, or that the right to privacy is naturally limited and does not extend to abusive punishments and neglect. Revelations of abuse in the movement have met with responses that are structurally identical to conservative Christian responses to abuse in the Christian adoption movement, and in various Christian colleges, churches and ministries. Below are my screenshots of homeschooling parents’ responses to me, and other members of Homeschoolers Anonymous, after we expressed support for tighter regulation and transparency about HSLDA’s support of abusive parenting techniques.
Charity Almer (comment made in reference to blogger Libby Anne)
Often, this tendency to deflect or deny the existence of abuse is supported by a deep-rooted paranoia regarding the state. I’ve included a couple examples below. This fear of government is not limited to Christian families, and exists as a locus point for secular support for the organization.
Fear of Government:
If you have Facebook, the thread itself is worth viewing. HSLDA has yet to offer a substantive response to the abuse allegations. It has not offered any practical solutions for addressing abuse in the Christian homeschooling movement; rather, it maintains its opposition to stricter regulation of homeschool families. In this, HSLDA is remarkably similar to the responses of Christian adoptive parents to journalist Kathryn Joyce’s recent coverage of abuse inflicted on adopted children. It also resembles the official responses of ministry leaders in ABWE, Sovereign Grace Ministries and countless churches and Christian schools to allegations of abuse in their ranks. A clear pattern has emerged. The religious right is steadily proving that it is incapable of appropriately responding to abuse, whether sexual or not, because it is incapable of acknowledging failures within its organizational structure. When you believe that you are on a mission from God, that you can access an absolute, divine truth incomprehensible to most, you behave with a certain arrogance. To acknowledge failure is to acknowledge that perhaps, just perhaps, you’ve heard God wrong. And that is a direct blow to the mythology that conservative Christian leaders require to support their continued control of the church as a political entity.