How Does HSLDA Gain Dues-Paying Members?

Some support groups may require membership in HSLDA as a condition of membership in their organization.

-Mary McCarthy

Words That Strike Terror:

  • A truant officer is at the door. He pushes his way in. He will not leave until he can take your children to the public school…”
  • A police officer is at your door with an arrest warrant to take your six year-old child…”
  • The local public school official insists that your home school arrangement is not legal and threatens you with criminal charges…”
  • More and more frequently, home schoolers are turned in on child abuse hotlines to social services agencies.”

These scenarios were presented on the first page of the Dealing With Social Services Contacts section of the fall 1999 HSLDA Support Group Seminar workbook, below the heading, “The Social Worker at Your Door.”

The Seminar workbook also contained two lengthy fear-inducing skits titled “How to Handle Visits from Social Service Agents,” by HSLDA attorney Christopher J. Klicka. According to the document, these skits have been performed at homeschooling conventions since 1993. The characters’ names are “Orwell” the Child Welfare Services worker, “Innocent” the hapless homeschooling parent, and “Eager-to-Please,” a homeschooled child.

The skit begins with “Innocent” opening the door to “Orwell’s” knock, and learning that the Welfare agency has received a report that the “children are being abused or neglected.”

By page 4, “Orwell” tells “Innocent” that the Welfare worker must view the children stripped, “so I can see if they have any bruises.”

Portraying these scenes incites the kind of fear that propels homeschoolers to buy what they perceive as legal protection: membership in an oganization such as HSLDA. Frightening sketches invoke visions of authorities run amok whisking our children away, but even HSLDA admits that homeschoolers are highly unlikely to face such predicaments.

Actual Risk Low

The scenarios’ implied danger to homeschoolers is contrasted sharply by HSLDA Attorney David Gordon’s statement, at the 1999 Virginia Support Group Leader’s Seminar, “Out of the 60,000 members, if I got 1 call a day [about CPS problems]–about 200 per year– which I don’t, that would equal only 1/3 of 1% of members. Nobody here should be afraid. Most [CPS] reports come through public schools. Nine out of ten end up unfounded or unsubstantiated.”

Mr. Gordon’s statement was supported by HSLDA attorney Scott Woodruff, who [in a November 1999 E-mail] wrote, “The likelihood of this [a homeschooling family being reported to CPS] happening to any one family is small, but since the impact can be devastating, everyone should have accurate background information.”

Michael Farris agreed [E-mail Mon, 14 Feb 2000], “No family should feel afraid of this scenario. But every family should be prepared. Part of this preparation is accurate knowledge of their rights and the current state of the law.” Mr. Farris included that “Most home school families will go through their entire child-rearing years with no contact whatsoever from social services.”

However, there is a great difference between providing accurate background information and utilizing frightening scenarios–and exaggerating the danger by publishing phrases such as, “More and more frequently, home schoolers are turned in on child abuse hotlines to social services agencies.”

Although Mr. Farris’ E-mail asserted that “It is fair to say that HSLDA has done more than any other group in the country to advance both knowledge and recognition of family’s Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search & seizure),” he did not address the reason HSLDA uses fear inducing scenarios from extreme cases, when–as one of the organization’s own attorneys stated–it is “accurate background information” that helps families protect themselves from invasive Social Services workers.

Murky Statistics

A question many homeschoolers have wondered about is “Does HSLDA keep statistics or not?”

Although asked [in the February 13, 2000 E-mail], Mr. Farris did not provide any statistics on the number and types of actions HSLDA has taken on behalf of its members. Instead he replied “we do not keep specific centralized data on each contact,” and that HSLDA has “no reason to do that.”

However, in an E-mail letter to Sonlight Curriculum Publisher John Holzmann [Tue, 21 Dec 1999 17:31:58], Michael Farris wrote “Generally speaking about 10% of our members face a serious legal threat of their right to home school from government in any given year.”

Extrapolating from Michael Farris’ February 12, 1998 testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Commercial and Administrative Law committee–in which he indicated he was speaking on behalf of 55,000 members of the Home School Legal Defense Association–approximately 5,500 member families faced “a serious legal threat of their right to home school” in 1998 alone.

Dave Mankins queries, “Why haven’t we been hearing about this…? This [Home-Ed discussion] list has had probably 3000 people pass through it in the last five years, how come we’ve only heard of a handful of them actually being helped by HSLDA?”

Sounding Alarms

The issuance of alarms may frighten parents into thinking they need legal protection through joining the Home School Legal Defense Association.

For instance, during the 2000 Virginia General Assembly, HSLDA and its affilliated state organization disseminated emergency alerts that–according to the Legislative Committee of the Virginia Home Education Association– were “unwarranted, may have damaged preexisting legislative strategies, and succeeded only in creating panic.”

The H.R.6 “Urgent Alert” had a similar effect, but on exponentially more homeschoolers across the country. According to Cheryl Seelhoff, “On February 15, 1994, HSLDA sent out an ‘Urgent Alert,’ which stated in large letters across the top, without qualification, ‘H. R. 6, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will require home school parents (and all private school parents (and all private school parents (and all private school teachers) to be certified teachers.’ This struck terror into the hearts of thousands of homeschooling parents.”


A portion of HSLDA membership fees are returned as “grants” to “organizations that are paid by HSLDA to encourage their members to join. Some of these groups made a lot of money.”

“A to Z Home’s Cool” offers a rundown on the “grants” for 1996 and 1998.

According to HSLDA‘s “blessings” letter, this “blessing” [or “grant”] was $5.00 per family where there are between 25 and 500 members and $7.50 per family for groups with more than 501 HSLDA/support group members.

Membership Required

Michael Farris stated that “No one is required to join HSLDA,” but that is apparently incorrect.

According to Mary McCarthy, “Many state support groups and some curriculum suppliers offer discount memberships to HSLDA when families join the support group or demonstrate they have purchased specific curricula. Some support groups may require membership in HSLDA as a condition of membership in their organization.

My support group, part of the CHEA network, Requires HSLDA membership for membership within the group. Various reasons have been given in the past for this, including wanting to be protected from litigation (?).”

– Homeschool Mom wishing to keep her identity private 4 Aug 2000

SCAIHS, a South Carolina “accountability” organization, initially required its members to also pay dues to HSLDA. According to Dianna Broughton,”HSLDA attorneys were very instrumental in getting SCAIHS [an accountability organization] into existence via our state legislature in 1992.

In return, SCAIHS made HSLDA membership a mandatory requirement. You couldn’t become a member of SCAIHS without becoming a member of HSLDA first. Homeschoolers could either homeschool through their local school district (often not an option due to district hostility) or through SCAIHS–those were the only two options at the time.

In 1996, a group of grassroots homeschool moms pushed through a third option of our law that allowed other associations to develop. (And no, we did not seek, nor were offered, help from HSLDA). While we were fighting that fight (or shortly after we won — I can’t remember the exact timing), SCAIHS dropped their mandatory HSLDA requirement.

According to the Alabama Home Educators’ Network, the Following Alabama Cover Schools Require Members to also join HSLDA:

  • Grace Bible Church School
    Gadsden, AL 35902
  • Parkway Christian School
    Birmingham, AL 35215
  • Sage Avenue Christian School
    Mobile, AL 36608
  • Southcrest Christian School
    Bessemer, AL 35022

“Back Scratching”

According to Dr. Raymond Moore, HSLDA and the Christian Home Educators Association of California had a “a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement,” in which CHEA required that its members also pay dues to HSLDA. Although that requirement appears to have been dropped, CHEA (as do many HSLDA-affiliated state organizations and support groups, like LEAH in NY) still heavily promotes membership in HSLDA. The organization recommends “getting connected.”

However, the “immediate and thorough representation” is not guaranteed by a policy. What Does HSLDA Really Provide?


Legal Mumbo Jumbo

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