HSLDA, American Homeschooling, and the Twelve Tribes

For anyone interested in the international influence of Christian Right and the Christian homeschool movement, the recent revelations of child abuse in the Twelve Tribes sect, or German policy toward homeschooling, all of which I touched on slightly in an article earlier this week, I have a real treat for you. Ryan Stollar has produced a gem of journalism connecting the dots and digging up links and information from the past decade or so. He has titled his piece “How American Homeschoolers Enabled and Funded German Child Abuse: The Real Story Behind the Religious Right and the Twelve Tribes.”

I’m going to quote from the beginning here, but the piece is long and rich with detail, and anyone interested should give it a thorough reading.

“Without the assistance of American homeschoolers, these advancements would not have been possible.”

~ Homeschool Legal Defense Association, concerning German legal association Schulunterricht zu Hause


Last week, German police raided a monastery and farm belonging to a religious cult in Bavaria. They removed 40 children on allegations of child abuse. While the event was originally portrayed by the cult as well as American right-wing news sources as religious persecution, that portrayal was quickly proven wrong. Video evidence of cruel and systematic abuse of children surfaced.

Some homeschool advocates originally attempted to chalk this up as another example of “German intolerance” of homeschooling. German homeschool advocate Jörg Großelümern, who leads the HSLDA-allied Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit (or Network for Freedom in Education), had brought the situation to the attention of Michael Farris, chairman of HSLDA, the U.S.-based homeschool lobbying organization. Großelümern alleged that “the authorities want to create a fait accompli because school holidays will end next week in Bavaria and their private school is not approved by the state.” Farris responded in turn, “Thanks so much for the info and for your leadership and courage.”

When evidence surfaced of real and horrifice abuse, however, these homeschool advocates immediately distanced themselves from the cult. Großelümern backpedaled: ”I didn’t know what was going on behind the curtain of this sect. They didn’t tell the truth and things must be judged differently now.”

Farris added that, “My sources were wrong,” Which makes sense, since his source was Großelümern.

People can, and do, make mistakes. People can have lapses of judgment. But the elephant in the room is how a German homeschool leader like Großelümern, and an international homeschool advocate like Farris, would not first wait to find out what was “going on behind the curtain.” It is slightly unsettling that their gut reactions to allegations of child abuse in a group universally recognized as a cult was to assume the best about cult parents over the well-being of children. 

But more than this, it is entirely disingenuous.

The cult in Bavaria, otherwise know as the Twelve Tribes, has been actively defended directly and indirectly through the actions of American homeschool advocates — most notably, by HSLDA itself — for the last decade. These advocates have organized legions of American homeschoolers and funneled over $100,000 of American money to groups that have directly and unabashedly supported this cult and its “rights.” Whether through sheer ignorance, or turning a blind eye, HSLDA and fellow homeschool advocates have encouraged Americans to both enable and fund child abuse in Germany.

Read the rest here. 

Homeschooling Parents Dismiss Alumni Voices Again
How HSLDA Talks About Abuse
Things HSLDA Opposes: Social Workers in Schools
Anonymous Tip: Meet the Lawyer
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.

  • Lizzie

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • AAAtheist

    “… HSLDA’s overarching international plan … was aiming for one thing: ‘To be able to say that homeschooling is a human right.’ …”


    Human rights accrue to the individual, not to those that misconstrue abuse of humans as a human right. Homeschooling may or may not infringe on an individual’s human rights, depending on how it’s practiced. The oversight which HSLDA vehemently opposes would ensure these protections.

    Furthermore, claiming these organizations “defend freedom” (Liberty Counsel; Alliance Defense Fund or Alliance Defending Freedom) and giving these organizations (ACLJ—American Center for Law and Justice) abbreviations similar to legitimate human rights organizations (ACLU—American Civil Liberties Union) is merely a fake-out ploy.

    We’re on to you, HSLDA. You’re not fooling anyone.

    • Gillianren

      Sadly not true. They’re fooling lots of people, though I suspect most of those people want to be fooled.

  • Beutelratti

    Thank you for sharing. I’m quite honestly terrified. I can only hope that this recent case will cause German authorities to be more cautious with groups who insist on schooling their children themselves.

    I still don’t understand completely why on earth the Bavarian authorities granted the sect an exception even when they knew very well that the sect would not teach evolution and sex ed (it is legally required, no ifs and no buts). It almost seems like they gave in because they didn’t want to be bothered by the sect and its supporters anymore.

    A side note: I still don’t understand how on earth anyone can consider homeschooling a human right?!
    Freedom from torture
    Freedom from slavery
    Freedom of speech
    Freedom to homeschool one’s children… wut

    • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

      Also remember- the right to education is a human right.

      The right to deny your kids a proper education is … not. It is, in fact, the opposite of a right. It is asking for the privilege of infringing your children’s rights.

      • Beutelratti

        I could, if at all, imagine homeschooling being a sub-category of Freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Without oversight it is still a massive infringement on the children’s rights though, like you said. Oh … I forgot, children don’t have human rights.

      • attackfish

        See, this is the thing, leaving school for me was freedom from torture at the hands of my teachers and classmates, but it was my right, not my parents’. Homeschool advocates are all about the parents’ rights, and they treat children like possessions instead of people.

      • fiona64

        Exactly. A former friend insisted to me that parents have a right to determine what their children learn … and that included denying education to them for whatever reason.

        He could not understand that this is child abuse.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd


        Children are people, not dolls or robots. You raise them to become more independent, more autonomous, hopefully more helpful people when they go out on their own. Your job as a parent is to equip them to leave you, which must include education. You can’t program them into little clones, nor dress them up and play at parenting.

      • Richter_DL


      • Richter_DL

        Parental rights do not supercede the child’s right, though some Americans apparently don’t seem to understand that children actually HAVE rights.

      • Beutelratti

        “I made it, so it’s mine! I can spank it, beat it, physically and mentally neglect it and deny it an education! It’s mine, mine!”

        “Oh you’re pregnant and you don’t want to be? The non-sentient embryo is a person, a person, I tell ya! It has rights, you do not get to murder it!”

      • fiona64

        That seems to cover it pretty well, actually …

      • InvertIntrovert

        Sort of like how they cry “freedom of religion” when they mean “freedom to use religion as an excuse to deny LGBTs/Muslims/women civil rights.”

    • Angela

      Exactly, to be a human rights issue you need to demonstrate that a particular class of people are being persecuted and oppressed. And as much as HSLDA would like to argue that the German government was persecuting Christians that doesn’t seem to be the case. If the law said that only Christians may not homeschool their children or that it’s illegal to be a Christian then they might have a case. As it is the government went out of their way to try and accommodate them (they agreed to let them set up their own school with a revised curriculum) but the cult was completely unyielding and would not refused to meet the very reasonable stipulation of engaging qualified teachers. That is NOT oppression (unless you’re referring to the children involved).

    • Richter_DL

      The two Southern states are generally … tolerant about Christian sects. Remember Fiat Lux? And I doubt the Twelve Tribes bought the monastery on eBay …

      • Beutelratti

        Ah yes, our deep south.

        I actually wrote an essay about Fiat Lux in religious class in school once. My teacher said the essay was very good, she just thought the comparison between Uriella and Jesus and how people are coerced into following self-proclaimed prophets went too far. Oops.

      • Richter_DL

        We even have a poor man’s Newt Gingrich with Seehofer!

        I didn’t take religion classes; back then in Berlin that was legal to do, as religious education was optional (they changed this since for universal ethics classes). Mostly because my teacher in grade school was very urgently trying to convert me and I didn’t really appreciate that. Seems she wasn’t the only rather … interesting RelEd teacher.

      • Beutelratti

        My parents at first made me go to the protestant class instead of the WuN-class. At some point they gave me the choice though and I decided to stay and religion was actually part of my Abitur, even though I had been an atheist for years already. I never had abusive teachers though. My teachers were (mostly) open for discussion. The only time I (and some friends as well) were really shocked was when our teacher “discussed” stem cell research and basically spent 45min collecting all the arguments against it and then dismissed the class saying that it was obvious that there were no arguments for it (even though she had insisted throughout the 45min to collect the arguments against first).

      • Richter_DL

        Ah, yes. Well my teacher did teach me my lack of patience for or tolerance of missionaries. So it’S not like that tiem was a total waste. Still, I think there should be a choice that does not involve religious indoctrination.

        Of course, Politische Weltkunde isn’t exactly better on the indoctrination front.

      • Stev84

        And what do those two states have in common? They are predominately Catholic.

      • Richter_DL

        They are also two (three, if you count Baden) formerly independent kingdoms with a thousand-years-old legacy, different majority tribes (Alemannic/Bavarian; it bears mentioning that Badenians – the Alemannic tribe (cousins to the German Swiss) don’t care one bit for being in one state with Bajuvarean and Palatine people and have in the 50s openly advocated violence against that forced union after the war), and are where much of Germany’s old industrial power resides, after the war and the 80s/90s restructuring turned Silesia to Poland, cut off the country’s former center (which was effectively deindustrialised by the 1990s) and the 80s/90s effectively killed the former industrial centers of Saarland and the Rhine-Ruhr conurbation. Also, the Northwest of Germany – the regions of Munster, Lower Saxony, and the Rhine-Ruhr conurbation with Cologne, Bonn, Duisburg and all the other rust belt cities are majorly catholic too.

  • Rebecca Horne

    What confuses me a bit is that the religious homeschooling advocates *are* withdrawing support now. Those videos showed kids being caned, right? Doesn’t that…not qualify as abuse in many of these people’s minds? I would have expected to hear more, “See? This proves they’re just being spanked as god intended!”

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      My honest answer? I think he’s feeling the pushback from the conversation started by homeschool grads and has realized he has to be careful.

    • Beutelratti

      To be honest, what happened in the Twelve Tribes sect is exactly how I imagined the Pearls’ methods and it looks to me exactly like what HSDLA might consider “reasonable discipline” (see: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2013/04/hsldas-defense-of-child-abuse.html )

  • Angela

    My favorite part of that article was where the part where German courts termed homeschooling an “abuse of parental rights.” I don’t totally agree. I feel that homeschooling can be a viable option and wouldn’t necessarily like to see that option taken away in the US. However, I LOVE the attitude that parental rights aren’t boundless, that they can be abused and that the rights of the child take precedence. I don’t know why more people over here don’t take that position.

  • Fina

    So – “HSLDA: We will protect you from child abuse charges, as long as you don’t send your children to public school”.
    Because that’s pretty much what they do – if a child is removed from a family for whatever reason, and the parents claims to be homeschooling, they will immediately turn the case into a “homeschool rights issue” and defend those parents.
    Very convenient for abusers who want legal protection.

  • tyler

    the hslda-as-supervillain comparison becomes more apt every day

    • Kate Monster

      Does Michael Farris have a creepy white cat that he’s always petting robotically? ‘Cause that would seal it.

      • Alix

        Hey now. Let’s not get mean here.

        …Cats have better taste.

  • Angela

    What I want to know is whether or not HSLDA will continue to support their legal battles regarding the right to homeschool. If not, then why can they not also concede that convicted child abusers in the US should not be allowed to homeschool as well? And if so then WTF?

    • Kate Monster

      I predict that the HSLDA will support whomever gives them the mose funding and positive attention, regardless of whether that clashes with their mission or public statements.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Homeschooling is a human right.

    The ability to brainwash, abuse and cripple children is a basic right. The decision to purposely Fuck over not only your own offspring, but the rest of the country that has to rely on them is something that cannot be denied you as a human being.

    I want to rant, but I can’t. I’m too busy trying not to be sick.

    • Mira

      I <3 you, Baby_Raptor! I've seen you on a lot of other blogs and such (iwastesomuchtime, maybe?) and I'm glad to see you on here! Even if the topics are often headdesk worthy.

      • Baby_Raptor

        Hi, friend! I do pop up at IWSMT occasionally, so yeah. That’s probably where you saw me first