By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH – Home Education Week in North Carolina kicks off Sunday (March 22) amid a firestorm of controversy surrounding a Wake County divorce ruling that will send three home schooled children into public school against their mother’s wishes.
“If attacks like this one continue, it is not beyond my imagination that we could see lawmakers in our country drafting legislation like exists in Germany today. German parents are forbidden from teaching their children at home, as the country sees ‘a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion,” wrote Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “We are not there yet, but a devastating decline can often begin with a seemingly insignificant downward step.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the 38,000-plus home schooling families in North Carolina, more than half of which identify themselves as “religious,” should not take the ruling lightly.
“We understand that divorcing parents rarely agree on every issue surrounding their children and these cases are never easy, but this one hinges on freedom of religion and parental rights,” Creech said.
Citing concerns about Venessa Mills’ religious practice – she is a member of Sound Doctrine Church in Washington State – Wake County District Court Judge Ned Mangum issued a temporary child custody order that will put the children, ages 10, 11 and 12 in year-round schools where they may begin classes as soon as July 7.
Mills, who has schooled her children since the summer of 2005, told the media that “it is very clear, very evident that I just choose to follow the Bible.”
But, according to Mangum’s written order, issued March 17, some former Sound Doctrine members refer to the church as “cult-like” and say its leaders are very controlling.
“We neither endorse nor denounce this church – people can explore its beliefs for themselves. That’s the beauty of religious freedom,” Rev. Creech said. “What we do know is that, unless there is evidence that these children are being harmed or this woman is breaking the law, her right to choose how to educate her children should not be denied.”
Judge Mangum, appointed to the bench by former N.C. Governor Mike Easley in January 2008, assured Venessa Mills that his ruling was not ideologically or religiously motivated, but also told her that going to public school would be a “good opportunity for the children to be tested” in the beliefs she had taught them. He further said that it would make the children “well-rounded” and help with “socialization.”
Former diplomat and longtime defender of liberty, Alan Keyes pointed out the judge’s faulty reasoning in his Loyal to Liberty blog late last week.
“The word ‘ideological’ literally refers to that which gives an account of ideas, or is done on account of them. So if he sends the children to public schools in order to make sure the mother’s ideas are challenged his decision is precisely ideological,” Keyes wrote.
“This decision is beyond appalling ….,” agreed Dr. Voddie Baucham, nationally known pastor and conference speaker who focuses on cultural apologetics. “… a judge still believes that socialization requires being in a room with 20 to 30 people your own age for up to 14,000 hours. Someone needs to tell him that research indicates home educated students actually experience superior socialization in the long run.”
Baucham said the ruling is condemning the children to “aggressively anti-Christian/secular human curriculum, increased exposure to violence, drugs, sex and an inferior education to boot!”
While one of the Mills children is on grade level, the other two have tested two grades above others their age, she reported. Their father, Thomas Mills, and the judge agree that all three are thriving academically. When they start to public school, at least one will be going to Leesville Road Middle, a school that has failed to meet its No Child Left Behind adequate yearly progress goals for five of the last six years, including 2008.
“It matters not that these children are performing above grade level. It matters not that these children are receiving more parental attention and investment than the overwhelming majority of children in our culture. All that matters is that they are not in a state sanctioned indoctrination center,” Baucham added on his Web site.
Mangum, after a weekend of having his comments in court hashed out in media reports and on independent Web sites, apparently decided not to include in the written order his beliefs about the Mills children needing the “socialization” of public school to become more “well-rounded.” Instead he wrote, “this Court clearly recognizes the benefits of home school – and any effort to characterize it differently is incorrect….”
Somewhat ironically, he said the court “can not and will not infringe upon either party’s right to practice their own religion and expose their children to the same.”
The judge ordered Venessa Mills to have a mental health assessment and granted her and Thomas Mills, who had admitted having an affair, joint custody of the children with them alternating weeks between their parents’ homes and spending 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with their mother on school days until the home schooling year is completed.
The judge’s written order came just five days after Gov. Bev Perdue proclaimed March 22-28 as Home Education Week, calling on citizens to “recognize the continued growth and importance of home education in the State of North Carolina.”
Perdue’s proclamation said the state is committed not only to “public policy that strengthens the family,” but “recognizes parental choice” in pursuit of excellence in education and that home education is a “viable educational alternative.” She further stated that parents have the “ultimate authority and responsibility for the care, upbringing, and choice of education for their children.”
Home schooling was officially legalized in North Carolina on May 7, 1985 as a result of a decision by the N.C. Supreme Court in Delconte v. North Carolina. Some 800 students were being home schooled at the time. Three years later, the Legislature enacted laws defining a home school and making specific legal requirements.
According to the N.C. Department of Administration’s Division of Non-Public Education, the state had 38,367 registered home schools in 2007-2008, serving an estimated 71,566 students, with more than 7,000 families joining the movement in each of the past two years.
Many of those families will converge on Raleigh on Tuesday (March 24) as part of Capital Fest 2009, sponsored by North Carolinians for Home Education. According to the NCHE Web site, participants will gather to show their support for the state’s home school laws, educate legislators on the success of home schooling and show lawmakers how much they love home schooling in North Carolina.
To find out more about this event or about home schooling, see the site at www.nche.com.