Heritage Defense: An HSLDA for the Family

I just today found out about something called Heritage Defense. Do you remember what I wrote before about the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)? Basically, HSLDA is a form of legal insurance – you pay an annual premium and in return have any legal fees covered – for homeschool families. While HSLDA only defends families who wind up in legal trouble over homeschooling, this new organization offers families legal insurance for a whole range of parental rights issues.

Vision Forum is currently offering a discount on Vision Forum products for all families who join Heritage Defense. In making this promotional, Doug Phillips describes Heritage Defense as follows:

For years I was in the business of defending families as an attorney. Today, I believe that every family must take seriously their duty to seek assistance in protecting their little ones from the abuse that comes from an increasingly humanist government system of social workers that often do not respect the Christian household or parental rights. If you are a home educator, you need to be a member of Home School Legal Defense Association, but as a parent, you also need the unique protection that Heritage Defense can offer. You need to know that the government will not harass you for loving and legal discipline you administer to your children, for your nutritional philosophy, for properly using midwifery services, or any of a host of important parental rights issues for which families are under attack. Consider this — just one hour of attorney consultation would typically cost you more than an entire year’s membership with Heritage Defense. You can’ afford to not join!

Reading about Heritage Defense really saddens me. You can see again the “us versus them” mentality it forwards, and the fear of social workers. There is this idea embedded in these groups that parents in some sense own their children. Interestingly, they will insist that their children are simply “on loan” from God, or that they are God’s appointed stewards of their children. They would never use the word “ownership.” Yet in practice, that is what this sort of all encompassing endorsement of parents’ rights and denial of children’s rights – which are what social workers, etc., strive to defend – amounts to the same.


It quickly becomes clear that Heritage Defense is purely a product of the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements (much as it seems CollegePlus is). First is the fact that Vision Forum is going so far to promote and support it. Second, there is this description on Heritage Defense’s main webpage:

Heritage Defense is a nonprofit legal advocacy organization established to protect Christian families across the country against illegitimate and unconstitutional attacks on their parental rights by government agencies. Heritage Defense works diligently to defend the rights of parents and to shield the arrows that God has entrusted to us.

“Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.” ~ Psalm 127:3-4

For all intents and purposes, Heritage Defense hops right out in front proclaiming itself Quiverfull. It uses all the right key words and, of course, the foundational verse. The audience Heritage Defense is targeting is clear.

Third is the fact that Heritage Defense only lets homeschool families be members, and turns away all others. From its Frequently Asked Questions page:

Heritage Defense membership is currently limited to home educating families. We strongly encourage all families to home educate their children.

And then there is also this promotional quote from Voddie Baucham, who is one of the leading voices in the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements and closely associated with Vision Forum, on Heritage Defense’s main page:

“Christian families need protection in these vital areas and it is quite encouraging to know that Heritage Defense is there to provide the help we need.” – Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr.

You can also glimpse the importance of HSLDA in this whole network in Doug Phillips’ insistence that every homeschooler should belong to HSLDA – and in current HSLDA president Mike Smith’s endorsement of Heritage Defense and Heritage Defense’s endorsement of HSLDA.

Family Over All

What does all this mean? Nothing new, really. It simply highlights once again the huge importance the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, and the Christian homeschool movement in general, place on the authority of the family. The family is held up as the be-all end-all, and any intrusion on the family to protect the rights of the individuals within it is deemed illegitimate. Organizations like Heritage Defense are set up to protect the family from such intrusion, and to set the family up as supreme and, in some sense, completely unaccountable to outside authorities.

When you remember the importance of patriarchy to this whole collection of movements, this is completely unsurprising. After all, they value the family over the individual and uphold parents as absolute authorities over children. And of course, the father as the head of the family is supreme over the rest, and is also a sort of mediator between God and the members of the family he leads (i.e. Gothard’s umbrella of authority, etc.). Authority. Obedience. Submission.

Remember that these same groups vigorously oppose the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and support the passage of a federal Parents’ Rights Amendment. Parental rights are held up as supreme and essentially absolute. Children are seen not as individuals with rights but as possessions to be trained and raised as their parents see fit. These groups see the “Christian household” and “parental rights” as what is important. Children’s rights? Not so much.

The creation of Heritage Defense also indicates that many families in the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements feel that they are under threat from social services and lawsuits, and want to head that threat off. It’s not surprising to me that they feel that they are under threat – this sort of mentality is central to the movements, really – but what’s new here is that, with the formation of Heritage Defense, concrete steps are being taken to stave off that threat.


In the end, then, the creation of Heritage Defense is a boon to the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements and a setback and roadblock for children being raised within them. I may not find its foundation surprising, but I do find it profoundly disturbing.

Fifty Shades of Evangelical Justifications for Patriarchy
HSLDA on those "Radically Atheistic" Public Schools
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
What Courtship Was for Me
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Conuly

    Exactly how bad does your “nutritional philosophy” have to be before the government gets involved? I’d chalk it up to random fearmongering, but I’m certain there’s some court case they’re thinking of that involved a kid starving to death. I just can’t think of which one.

  • Karen

    The main problem children’s agencies have is failing to investigate genuine charges of child abuse; they don’t have to look for work by harassing people who don’t hurt their kids. I’m guessing “nutritional philosophy” is weasel language for using supplements instead of actual medications like insulin. Also, note the use of modifiers: discipline is “loving and legal,” midwives are used “properly.” My guess is that those modifiers are in there so that Heritage can refuse to provide service when someone actually needs a defense. No one will ever need a lawyer for giving the kid a time out or taking away the Xbox. The only time this is going to be an issue is if there is an actual physical injury or threat of injury. So, someone who regularly beats his kids — and in these families it’s usually going to be a “he” doing the whomping — causes a broken bone or concussion, and calls Heritage for a criminal lawyer. Heritage then thumbs its nose because the discipline wasn’t “legal.” Great scam you got there Doug. Nice way of witnessing Christ by cheating your customers and encouraging them to beat their kids.

  • machintelligence

    Insurance companies are generally really good at two things: collecting premiums and denying claims.

  • Gina

    Every time I read an anti-feminist site like Ladies Against Feminism I read things like, “Jesus never demanded his rights be respected, neither should we as women. Rights aren’t mentioned in the Bible!” Yet they claim such a thing as parental rights. Either rights are an important biblical/Christian concept or they’re not. They can’t have it both ways.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      Have you heard of the term cognitive dissonance? /joking

  • http://www.americannaussie.katyannewilson.com Katy-Anne

    You know, I come into contact with social workers several times a week. I am not threatened by them, because I am not abusing my children. In fact, I take my disabled son to see several of them on a weekly basis. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have to be worried. These people need to remember this. :)

    • Crazy Gal

      I think it’s a blessing that you have great relations with the social workers in your area. The brother of a very close friend of mine– his last name is Jackson, the case is searcheable– had his children taken from him for aparently no reason at all (except that they homeschooled their children) and placed into separate foster homes. This was a few years ago. There, they were mistreated. At one house, his daughter was raped by her foster father–pinned to a wall and attacked. During all this time he was not allowed to see them. Most recent news on this is that he’s had a stroke, and been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. It doesn’t seem like the defense companies really helped.

    • lucrezaborgia

      I wish I could say the same thing but my husband’s daughter has been in foster care for almost 2 years now and even though he’s the non-offending parent and wasn’t involved at all in the abuse, we are still fighting to bring her home. Social workers with an agenda do exist, unfortunately.

  • shadowspring

    It is part of the appeal for new cult members: we are an elite group, so special that regular society will not even “get” us. Become one of us: the few, the proud, the righteous. As odd as it is, the more difficult it is to be accepted in a group, the more people will clamor to join. My guess is that the very existence of this group and its requirements is going to recruit new unsuspecting Christian parents into the high demand QF home schooling movement.

    Nutritional rights may be homeopathy, but me also be as severe as the Hallelujah Diet. I know of a family in Florida that refused to give their little children milk or formula (I think they were breastfed also though) but put something called Green Magma in orange juice for a bottle. I didn’t personally witness this; a mutual friend reported this to me. I questioned her about other sources of nutrition and she mentioned she *thought* the mother still breastfed too. If I had personal experience, and this was the only source of nutrition, I would have called CPS. But it was all second-hand info, though I don’t doubt it. The father and mother were extremely thin, and always tired, though they claimed to feel fantastic. I wonder how that worked out for everyone.

  • shadowspring
    • AnotherOne

      Oh my. I grew up in/around a lot of this stuff, and some of it still surprises me. I clicked on the Hallelujah Diet link, and the first thing I thought is that it looks like the transcript of an SNL skit.

  • Kat

    My husband’s family did the Hallelujah Acres diet. They also at one point put their entire family, including young, growing, elementary age children on a zero fat diet. My husband and his siblings were also isolated and abused in the name of fundamentalism. I wish to god someone had intervened.

  • http://thewordsonwhat.wordpress.com/ Rob F

    After hearing about the opposition (in the US) to (ratifying) the Convention on the Rights of the Child , I ended up reading the UNCRC.

    It’s total common sense. Only someone who thinks that “parental rights” means some combination of (1) the right to abuse; (2) the right to deny healthcare; or (3) the right to deny an education could possibly run afoul of the UNCRC. Everyone else, who are the vast, overwhelming majority of parents, would have no problems.

    One more thing. The Supremacy Clause (VI.2) of the US Constitution says:

    This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

    The “fear” seems to be that treaties overrule US law. But if that is the case they’d have to apply it consistently, to all treaties. Including the Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11 of which says (my emphasis):

    Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [sic],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [sic] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    In other words, claims that the US is founded as a Christian nation, and fear of the UNCRC, are mutually contradictory. If the ToT is rejected, then a treaty cannot overrule US law, and therefore the UNCRC cannot infringe on any statutory parental rights. If the UNCRC overrules US law on parental rights, then the US cannot be a Christian nation! QED.

  • Elise

    This whlole article gave me minibacks (What I call small PTSD flashbacks) to my upbringing…

  • smrnda

    For someone on the outside, the language is clearly meant to distort and obscure the fact that this is basically meant to support the idea that children are the property of parents and that children have no rights, that all intervention into the family by state agencies is wrong, and that as long as parents are “Christian” they can do no wrong.

    All this is being promoted in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ but it’s clearly understood that the Heritage Foundation believes parents have rights and children do not, so it’s an interpretation of ‘rights’ that sounds like something from Roman Times with the pater familias or what-not as the supreme ruler. Understandably for parents who seek total control over their children and want no interference this backing up of oppression (for kids) by framing it as freedom for parents is going to be just the justification they are looking for.

    For Gina – as for inconsistencies in rights I think the basic deal is that they support rights when it’s in their favor to do so and then bring up the “the Bible didn’t talk about rights’ when it isn’t. I mean, Jesus said shut up and pay your taxes and how many fundamentalists are preaching that taxation is theft? I mean, the Romans weren’t elected and were using the tax/tribute money to fund the occupation of conquered nations. When we pay taxes we do get some say into what they are used for, but I haven’t found fundamentalists to be very keen on using logic.

  • Tracey

    I suspect the bit about “nutrition” is also carefully-cultivated paranoia. The First Lady of the US, Michelle Obama, dared to suggest that parents talk to their children about nutritious eating and perhaps even take walks with their children, something the Professionally Offended class (Sarah Palin and her ilk) consider to be child abuse and try to get the rest of America hysterically against.

    • smrnda

      For folks like that, if a government agency suggests that you shouldn’t sniff glue or paint thinner it’s some kind of sinister plot to control our every action, but somehow if someone on their own side decides to teach creationism in schools or abstinence based sex education it’s not a particular group of people trying to impose their values on everybody, it’s ‘real Americans’ standing up for ‘real American values.’ According to them, there’s nothing sinister about falsifying history in the name of patriotism in textbooks but there’s something sinister in trying to reduce the amount of sodium in canned goods. Nobody like that is thinking anything beyond that their own side is always right and the other side is always wrong.

  • Sue Blue

    I know of a whacky religious family whose children ended up with rickets because they were strict lacto-ovo vegetarians and did not use “evil” vitamin/mineral supplements. Combining superstitious dietary restrictions with a complete lack of knowledge about nutrition and biology is always bad news. If I starve my children because I am a delusional schizophrenic or a psychopath or a drug addict, the law would show me no mercy, and my kids would be taken away in a flash. But if I pipe up and say my kids are ten percent underweight for their age because my religion prohibits gluttony, the law suddenly gets all teary-eyed and tippy-toed? What a crock of shit. Abuse is abuse, no matter what the excuse. Religious privilege always pisses me off, but never so much as when child abuse is allowed to fly under the radar as “parental rights”. This “insurance agency” ought to be shut down, and the lawyers who participate in the bogus “defense” of this abuse disbarred.

    • Sue Blue

      And, if hell was a real place, I would order up the deepest, hottest blast-furnace pit for those who harm or kill their children in the name of religion.

    • smrnda

      You’re 100 percent right there – if someone abused their kids without a religious pretext, they’d be in jail, or their kids would be in foster care. Somehow once you slap ‘religion’ on something it’s off limits.

      Have you ever read Janet Heimlich’s book about religious child abuse? It’s got a lot of cases not just of abuse but of people following idiotic dietary or health rules in the name of religion, which (to me) just sounds like ‘let’s ignore all science, evidence and the entire field of medicine and then wonder why kids end up sick and dead.’