GOP candidate brags about endorsement from radical right-wing group

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The Home School Legal Defense Association lobbies for corporal punishment and opposes gay rights.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, the Republican challenger to incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper in the state governor's race, bragged Friday of his endorsement by a fringe right-wing homeschooling group that opposes diversity and gay rights.

A post on Forest's official campaign Facebook page notes: "We are proud to be endorsed by the HSLDA - Home School Legal Defense Association. As a homeschool parent himself, Dan Forest knows how valuable school choice is and will protect it in North Carolina."

Forest, a favorite among Christian conservatives, homeschooled his own children beginning in the 1990s. He has expressed his excitement about "the growth in the movement," citing his own reasons for homeschooling as failing local public schools and prohibitive tuition at private schools.

Unsurprisingly, he is a strong supporter of Betsy DeVos' plans to privatize education, diverting public school funds to parents who want to homeschool or send their children to private school.

The group that endorsed Forest, the Home School Legal Defense Association, is a conservative fundamentalist lobbying group founded in 1983 and helmed by Michael Farris. According to a report published by Salon, it is "on the record as ... vociferously in favor of corporal punishment and gun ownership and against gay rights and the United Nations."

Its ranks represent about 15% of homeschoolers in the United States, but it has had untold influence in shaping homeschooling legislation in the country.

The association has also remained a staunch voice opposing any kind of multicultural curriculum, environmental education, or sex education in schools.

But this is right up Forest's alley: He decried multiculturalism in an incoherent 2019 rant charged with white nationalist language, claiming that a diverse America will not survive.

"No other nation, my friends, has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today, because of a lack of assimilation, because of this division, and because of this identity politics," he said.

In a May 2004 post, the HSLDA stated its support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, claiming that such unions "infect ... every state in the nation." In a 2015 interview, association founder Farris compared legislators protecting gay rights to the Third Reich.

"This is not just about gay rights. This is about ... Will pro-life doctors be forced to participate in abortions?" Farris said on the Lars Larson Show. "This is all about unilateral coercion, it's political correctness with the regimentation and force that Nazi Germany would be proud of."

According to a statement issued by the association in 2014, same-sex marriage "attacks the traditions of the family in western civilization."

"This is an attack on parental rights," the organization notes. "This is a battle the homeschooling movement cannot afford to lose."

This dovetails neatly with Forest's own religious convictions: He was one of the most outspoken of North Carolina elected officials protesting the ruling legalizing gay marriage in North Carolina in 2014, calling it "judicial tyranny."

The HSLDA has also promoted the myth of social workers targeting homeschoolers to remove them from their families. ProPublica reported many baseless claims by the association that Child Protective Services and other social workers were out to abduct homeschooled children who were not abused.

In Aug. 2015, Farris described social workers as "armed officers invading people's houses, in many instances without a warrant."

"The reality is that we want to stand together as a movement. If they touch one of us we are going to go to [the homeschooling parents'] defense, and we have the ability to go to their defense with rigor and expertise," he added.

On the HSLDA's website, an Aug. 2014 article sports the headline, "Social Workers Snatch Sick Kids." A 2012 headline reads, "Let Me In or I'll Huff and I'll Puff and ... I'll Take Your Kids!" And Farris himself wrote a novel in 1996 called "Anonymous Tip," in which a social worker concocts false abuse allegations to take a mother's child away.

But child welfare experts have long expressed concerns about the trend of "invisible children" — the phenomenon of some parents withdrawing their children from public school to conceal abuse.

One prominent case was that of Jennifer Hart and her high-profile family of adopted children of color, whose child abuse was concealed through homeschooling and state-hopping. The story ended tragically as she drove her wife and children off a cliff in California.

A study by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate noted that 36% of children withdrawn from school in six Connecticut districts were subjects of investigations by social services, and one in four had been the subject of multiple prior reports — considered the best indicator of future abuse.

And a study conducted of 3,700 homeschooled children by Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out and the Coalition for Responsible Home Education found that 42% reported experiencing abuse or neglect.

Milton Gaither, a prominent historian of American education and scholar on homeschooling, has noted that "child services have long been wary of the potential for unregulated homeschooling to serve as a cloak for child abuse."

But Forest distrusts government officials looking out for the welfare of children.

When North Carolina's Division of Non-Public Education suggested doing site visits to some homeschooling homes in 2013, Forest publicly objected to such visits, saying that homeschoolers should unequivocally refuse "warrantless entry by government officials without probable cause into their homes."

"Homeschool[ing] families should follow the law relating to the keeping of records and their lawful inspection, but should not be compelled to let any government official into their house. It is not necessary and people should reject it," Forest said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.