Michael Farris, Child Abuse Denialism, and the Christian Homeschool Movement

In 2002 Stephen Baskerville wrote “The Truth about Child Abuse,” in which he claimed that judges and courts grant women access to no-fault divorce in an effort to remove fathers from the home and thereby create situations where child abuse is more likely to occur in order to make work for government bureaucracy. In 2004, Baskerville wrote “Could Your Children Be Given To “Gay” Parents?in which he argued that the government uses child abuse as a pretense to take children from loving heterosexual families and bestow them on gay couples. After being hired as a professor by Patrick Henry College in 2007, Baskerville delivered Patrick Henry College’s 2013 Faith & Reason lecture, in which he argued that child abuse is a trumped up pretext women use to remove children’s fathers from their lives.

What I want to know is this: to what extent does Michael Farris, who founded both Patrick Henry College and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), share Baskerville’s ideas about—and his denial of—child abuse? If you think about it, if Farris shares Baskerville’s view that biological fathers married to children’s mothers do not commit child abuse, or that children in married families are not at risk of child abuse, or that child protective services should automatically be assumed to be wrong (as a result of being either overzealous or corrupt), it could help explain some of his actions and comments. (We do know that Farris shares Baskerville’s opposition to no-fault divorce.)

Baskerville is certainly not the only child abuse denialist in the Christian homeschool world, and Farris’s past words and actions suggest that, like Baskerville and a number of other prominent Christian homeschool leaders, Farris too is a child abuse denialist. First, I want to be clear about what I mean by “child abuse denialist.” I’m not using the term to refer to someone who believes child abuse never happens. In fact, you can claim to abhor child abuse and still be a child abuse denialist. Here is how I would define the term:

Child Abuse Denialist: Someone who believes  at least one of the following:

  1. That child abuse is something that only happens in other families, and not in families in your own group (whether religious, social, or other).
  2. That the vast majority of child abuse reports are fake, trumped up by exes, relatives, friends, and neighbors acting out of malicious motives.
  3. That most families who are prosecuted for child abuse are actually being prosecuted for frivolous reasons, such as simple spanking, homeschooling, or not letting their kids watch TV.
  4. That beating a child with a rod or other implement so as to cause bruising, welts, or swelling is not child abuse provided it is done calmly and in order to discipline a child.
  5. That child protective services is a corrupt racket, and that social workers go out of their way to tear apart perfectly healthy families, whether for money or out of anti-Christian bias.

With definitions out of the way, let’s turn first to Mary Pride. In 1986, Mary Pride, the pioneering homeschool mother who started the quiverfull movement with her book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back To Reality, wrote a book called The Child Abuse Industry: Outrageous Facts About Child Abuse & Everyday Rebellions Against a System that Threatens Every North American Family. Allow me to quote from a review of Pride’s book:

In 1985, over one million North American families were falsely accused of child abuse. Mary Pride claims that bureaucrats have actually maneuvered themselves into a position of having the power to take all the children in the family, without having evidence and without any appeal. North America has become anti-family. Even social workers have become the enemy rather than the supporters of the family unit. Pride wonders whether there is anything in the current anti-.family climate that would stop a social worker from lying in order to yank a child away from his natural parents – all “in the best interests of the child”?

Today’s family appears to be without civil rights, as far as child abuse is concerned. Pride questions the charge that child abuse has dramatically risen in recent years. She says, “It came as a great relief to me personally to find there is much, much less abuse in America than we have been told. The reason? .A great, glaring gap between what you and I mean when we talk about abuse and what the ‘experts’ mean. You and I think of bloodied children, battered children, raped children. The ‘experts’ think of parents who scold and withhold TV-watching privileges. Abuse, you see, is undefined by law.”

Mrs. Pride attributes the current anti-family mood to the spiritual change America has undergone. Once it was governed by laws based on an absolute; we are now governed by the dictates of special interests fads of the elite.

To be honest, this sounds very familiar (or even identical) to much of what Baskerville has asserted. For Mary Pride, child protective services exists not to safeguard the wellbeing of children but rather to destroy families. (By the way, Michael Farris is a big fan of Mary Pride and has wrote a forward to her 2004 Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling.)

Doug Philips, speaking at a men’s leadership homeschooling conference in 2009 (a conference co-sponsored by HSLDA, I might add), went so far as to call for the complete abolition of child protective services:

If the Bible is our standard, dear friends, then we reject, at least principally . . . we understand that the core problem with Child Protective Services is its existence.

“Okay, Phillips! Phillips, what in the world are you talking about? This is nutty, Phillips! What do you mean?”

Here’s what I mean.

The Bible establishes the government to bear the sword against evildoers, and it gives us principles for prosecuting criminal behavior. Criminal behavior should be prosecuted. Child Protective Services is based on quasi-criminal understanding, namely, “You’re not guilty of anything criminal, but we are going to claim the right to have jurisdiction over you to regulate you and possibly take away your children.” The state has no biblical authority to do that. It is unbiblical. It is unjust. It is wrong. And at the end of the day, the problem isn’t simply Child Protective Services to get better; it is eliminating it altogether. And you know what? The children of America would be safer.

The children of America will be safer if we have strong church.

The children would be safer if we taught our fathers to be more responsible.

The children would be safer if we didn’t develop a nanny-state philosophy that taught us that someone else will be acting on behalf of the parents watching out for the children.

Philips argued that children should be protected by their parents (especially their fathers) and by the church, not by child protective services, which he claims is bestowed with extra-legal power.

And here is where we turn back to Michael Farris, because I am reminded of a novel he wrote (yes, Michael Farris wrote a novel—actually, he wrote two that I’ve read, and who knows, he may have written more). I purchased Farris’ novel while at Patrick Henry College one summer during high school, and I read it eagerly. Here is a brief description:

Anonymous Tip is a novel that reveals a Child Protective Services system driven by jealousy, ambition, and drift toward ever-greater intrusion in the lives of families. Gwen and Casey rely on faith in the face of false accusations by a faceless accuser.

I’m trying to remember what all happens and I should probably try to see if I can find the book at my parents’ house and snag it for rereading, but I definitely remember the conniving social workers. Farris includes conversations among social workers as they work consciously to concoct reasons to keep Gwen’s daughter in foster care even though they know that Gwen is in no way abusive. Here are some excerpts from Amazon reviews:

This book alerts people to the army of ‘social workers’ that are out there, who look at themselves as ‘child advocates’ rather than family advocates, and does a great job of explaining who these people are, and how they look at traditional, loving, family, primarily how they look at families that properly discipline (i.e., spank) their kids. For me, it was nothing new, I went to college with these types of (future) social workers, partied with them, and fully learned what they think of traditional families.

From reading the book, one learns right away that social workers are required to respond to anyone with a complaint, even if anonymous – and they will show up at your door to check your kid out. So if someone doesn’t like you, maybe a co-worker (or an ex), you are always at risk of a ‘visit’ and if they see marks, or if you (or your kid) admits punishments of anything more than a timeout, you could be toast. So it’s always in one’s interest to lie to these people if you do spank, for example, and it’s a good idea to teach your kid the same (we basically told our kid that if he talked about our at-home disciple, he’d get a new pair of parents – worked like a charm). Another critical thing to keep in mind, if visited, is the need to immediately get a pediatrician’s exam showing that the kid has no marks (if that is indeed the case, if not…you’re on your own). Parents are also warned that school teachers are required, by law, to report any ‘incorrect parenting’ to the authorities…something that I suspect most parents don’t know.

Having read many articles by Michael Farris I was anxious to read this novel. I was NOT in the least bit disappointed. This is a gripping tale that keeps you bound until the end. I highly recommended that you read it and pass it on and tell that person to pass it on as well. People need to be informed about how the government and it’s agencies can turn situations around to their benefit. Michael Farris’s work as a lawyer who is trying to protect the traditional family has surely put him in many similar circumstances as those portrayed in “Anonymus Tip”. This tells me that this book is an acurate portrayal of what’s really going on. I’m looking forward to reading his next work.

“Anonymous Tip” blends many subjects into an intriguing and compelling story line that will keep you tied to this book until you finish it. A single mother is anonymously accused of abusing her daughter by spanking her. The tip leads to an investigation by child welfare workers who intrude into the home and strip search the little girl as her mother protests.

The mother’s protests ‘antagonize’ the workers who scheme to build a case to remove the child from her mom. A number of sub-plots are woven into the story including a Christian lawyer with strong convictions, the need for accountability among friends, fraudulent fund raising efforts, concerns over divorced Christians, and a love story.

The story is captivating and one comes away with a strong sense of concern about the ability of the state to come between loving parents and their children. Further, the book leaves the reader with a good feeling as all the subplots are tied together.

I hadn’t thought about this book in a while, but honestly, more than anything else this book seems to me to say something about how Michael Farris views child protective services. It also helps explain why Farris works against child abuse reporting and advocates stonewalling child abuse investigations.

Note also that HSLDA’s membership manual states that:

HSLDA believes child abuse is a terrible crime and that true abusers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. However, about 60% of abuse and neglect reports are deemed unfounded upon investigation.

Why exactly does HSLDA find the need to follow up its condemnation of child abuse with the word “however”? Is it really not enough to simply condemn child abuse without the caveat? Note also the use of the phrase “true abusers.” Why should you need to qualify the word “abusers”? Remember that child abuse denialism does not mean saying that abuse never happens. It shouldn’t be surprising that the use of the term “true abusers” is frequently sign of child abuse denialism.

So what exactly does Michael Farris actually believe about child abuse, and about child protective services? Does he believe that child abuse doesn’t happen in good married Christian homeschooling families? Does he take child abuse allegations seriously, or does he believe that the majority child abuse allegations are fakes made up by conniving and manipulative relatives or neighbors? Does he believe that most child abuse investigations and prosecutions involve frivolous issues that are not actually abuse? Does he operate on the assumption that child protective services is a racket out to take children, especially the children of Christian parents (and hand them off to gay parents, perhaps)? And why exactly is child abuse denialism so deeply embedded in the Christian homeschooling movement anyway?

Farris is the head of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which not only gives legal advice to homeschooling parents facing allegations of child abuse but also engages in lobbying and legal cases designed to narrow the definition of child abuse and limit the ability of child protective services to do its job. If Farris thinks that child abuse doesn’t happen in married households, and that child abuse allegations regarding such families are almost certainly fake, his actions will get in the way of very real abused children getting help. If Farris thinks that child protective services is a racket that should be put out of business, his actions will  work against the safety and well being of any abused child.

Given that Farris is using homeschoolers’ money to fund his actions and advocacy (including the money my parents have been sending him for the past twenty years, I might add), I’d suggest that those homeschoolers have a right to know what he actually thinks about child abuse and child protective services. If they are supporting a child abuse denialist, as I suspect they are, they need to know that. 

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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.


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