Michael Farris, the man behind the Parental Rights Amendment
PURCELLVILLE, Va. – Nearly 30 years ago, Michael Farris, a young lawyer and political activist from Washington state, was listening to Tim LaHaye's television show when Dr. Raymond Moore came on as a guest, talking about the merits of homeschooling, a budding movement in the U.S. at the time.
After hearing the program, Farris immediately consulted his wife, Vickie, and they agreed to pull their oldest child out of school in favor of home education.
It was a moment that changed the course of Farris' life and triggered a life's work that would greatly impact American culture and politics.
Over the next two decades the Farrises homeschooled their 10 children. He also went on to found the Home School Legal Defense Association, a law firm dedicated to defending the rights of families to educate their own children at home, in 1983. In 2000, he founded Patrick Henry College, a school that has gained the nickname of "Harvard for
Homeschoolers," since the majority of its students are former homeschool students who hold average SAT scores comparable to Ivy League schools. He also founded a local house of worship, Blue Ridge Bible Church, which now serves a congregation of more than 500.
His friends say with these institutions he has created – like his 10 children – Farris has legacy that will continue to impact the culture for decades after he is gone.
"Remarkable is a word reserved for very few extraordinary men to describe their contributions and legacies, but it captures the nature, charisma, consistency and work of Michael P. Farris," Star Parker said.
The media spotlight currently is on Farris again as the Parental Rights Amendment makes its way through Congress. Farris proposed the amendment, whose aim is to preserve parents' rights to educate and raise their children, especially in light on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty critics see as usurping that authority from parents and placing it in the hands of government. The treaty bans traditional disciplinary methods such as spanking.
Farris, an expert in the intersection between U.S. constitutional law and international law, is pushing the amendment to codify parental rights.
"Mike Farris has been a major factor in the successes of the pro-family movement. He taught thousands of parents the value of homeschooling, and then organized them to defend their God-given parental rights to determine the education of their children," Schlafly said.
The college chancellor is known for his appreciation of the skills necessary to win political contests and impact the culture positively with his conservative Christian ideals.
He prides himself in training up a new generation to carry on the fight into the future. His "little college that could" won the American Collegiate Moot Court Association national championship this year, the third time in five years the school had won under Farris' instruction and leadership. Additionally, Patrick Henry's debate team holds numerous national titles in intercollegiate debate. Farris has described it as one of the best in the country. The college's Model United Nations team just received the most prestigious award at the national conference where more than 300 colleges from across the world were competing.
"Patrick Henry College may not have a football team, but we have one of the best debate teams in the country," Farris said.
Schlafly acknowledged Patrick Henry's impressive record in intercollegiate competitions and said that its students are ready for leadership.
"Mike's Patrick Henry College is an oasis of truth in the midst of nationwide campus culture wars," Schlafly said. "His students are winning national competitions of all kinds and are ready to take leadership of the next generation," she said.
James Dobson, founder of Focus of the Family, called him "an American hero."
"His tireless promotion and defense of homeschooling has made a positive difference in the lives of millions of children. Our families, and our nation’s future, have grown stronger through his godly influence," he said.
Students of Farris' have gone on to attend prestigious schools such as Harvard Law and the University of Virginia Law School. One graduate currently writes for the Harvard Law Review.
Farris studied law at Gonzaga University in Washington, where he was an all-star student. Before graduating, he had a job with a local law firm lined up and had already tried multiple cases. He also spent part of a quarter teaching constitutional law while a senior at undergraduate school after his former professor passed away.
His first involvement in politics came in the 1980s when he started the Washington chapter of the Moral Majority. In the meantime, Farris, a devout Christian since his childhood, became an ordained minister at a Baptist church he had attended for years. Best-selling author LaHaye was on his ordination council.
Farris and his growing family relocated to Northern Virginia after being offered a job as a director at Concerned Women for America, a coalition of conservatives working to uphold biblical values.
Among his achievements is authoring 3 novels and 11 non-fiction books. His book "From Tyndale to Madison: How the Death of an English Martyr Led to the American Bill of Rights," traces the history of religious freedom over 300 years. Farris has also authored informational books such as "What a Daughter Needs From Her Dad: How a Man Prepares His Daughter for Life." His book "The Joshua Generation" calls for young Christians to become politically active to help fight the culture war.
In 1988, Farris founded Blue Ridge Bible Church along with two other families. After struggling to find a church they could call home, the families decided to start one of their own. Farris, who was an ordained minister, served as the interim head pastor.
Farris didn't feel properly equipped for his role as a pastor, explaining saying he had "spent several years teaching on Christianity as it applied to social issues." But he hadn't taught in a pastoral capacity. Nevertheless, the church grew in size, with a regular attendance of more than 100 people after the first year.
Farris resigned as acting pastor after several years of leading the church but continues to serve as an elder today.
After Farris decided to start homeschooling, he quickly became acquainted with the legal obstacles homeschooling families face. In 1983, Michael Farris and California-based lawyer, Michael Smith founded the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Farris applied his extensive experience in both politics and appellate litigation to defend parents' rights to home school and help grow the organization to more than 80,000 members.
In the 16 years the organization has been around, membership fees have never increased, a fact that Farris attributes to God's providence. The annual cost per family to be a member of HSLDA is $100.
Last June, when homeschooling came under assault in California, Michael Farris was there to defend parent's rights. E. Ray Moore, Jr., the founder of the Exodus Mandate, a Christian ministry dedicated to encouraging and assisting Christians in leaving the public school system in favor of private schooling or home education, was present in the courtroom.
"As recently as June 2008 I was present in the Los Angeles Court of Appeals courtroom when Michael Farris wrapped up the defense case for rights of homeschooling in California and uttered these simple but immortal words, to the court, 'Your honor, you can't stop parents from doing good to their children,'" Moore recalled.
In 1996 HSLDA had excess revenue and reached agreement among the board members that it should be given back to the homeschooling community. HSLDA made a sizeable donation to special-needs homeschoolers but still had money left to invest.
The board mutually decided to start a college that would cater to homeschool students, but would welcome students from all education backgrounds. The board wanted the college to further the classical style of education that is popular in homeschooling.
In 2000, Farris founded Patrick Henry College. His vision for the college was clear – to train up Christian leaders for the future.
From its founding PHC has set itself apart from other Christian colleges. The liberal arts college has a core curriculum based on classical education with an emphasis in government. The college is distinctly Christian and has been able to remain that way because of Farris' refusal to accept government funding.
The college's proximity to Washington, D.C., has made it possible for students to intern at prestigious government institutions, including the White House.
"The nation is a safer place because of the leadership of Michael Farris," Porter said. "Not only has Michael defended homeschool parents, Patrick Henry College is training them become leaders in our nation and world," she said.
The school has received recognition internationally because of the caliber of its graduates.
PHC was also recently the subject of an independently made feature film. "Come What May," a production of Advent Film Group, is a fictional movie about PHC's championship moot court team. The film was shot on and around the Patrick Henry College campus and Farris makes a brief cameo playing himself as the moot court coach.
PHC was also the subject matter of a recent book that dubbed the name, "God's Harvard."
Despite both positive and negative media attention, no one is questioning the ability PHC students have to make an impact.
Farris' friends also note his keen sense of humor.
Last October, he appeared as a special guest on comedian Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Report" to talk about Patrick Henry College. In the duration of the five-minute interview, Farris defended the inerrancy of Scripture, biblical creation and Christian salvation.
When Colbert asked Farris if he believed that everyone who asked Jesus Christ to be their Lord and savior would get into heaven, Farris quickly proclaimed, "Yes." Colbert added a follow up question asking, "Will everyone who accepts Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior get into Patrick Henry College?"
Farris shot back: "No, they don't necessarily have the SAT scores."