Homeschoolers help torpedo disability rights treaty in Senate

International observers may be a little confused about why the U.S. Senate just rejected a treaty that has been ratified by 125 countries and is substantially based on U.S. law. They also might be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, this has to do with homechooling. 

In addition to groups like the Heritage Foundation -- which opposes nearly any U.N. treaty on sovereignty grounds -- and anti-abortion politicians like Rick Santorum who argue, inaccurately, that the law could lead to abortion being mandated for disabled children, the politically powerful, but usually under-the-radar U.S. homeschooling movement has been one of the most pivotal lobbies working against U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association claims to have sent anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 letters and emails to lawmakers urging them to oppose the treaty: 

“I think the homeschool movement was more mobilized on this issue than any issue in the last decade,” Estrada said, noting that a large population of homeschooling families had at least one child with a disability.

“They realized this wasn’t about disabilities issue, this was about who was going to make decisions for children with disabilities,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons, who voted for ratification, claims his office was barraged with calls from homeschoolers in the run-up to the vote. Sen. Mike Lee specifically cited homeschoolers' concerns in opposing the treaty today: 

“We all want to support the best interest of the the child, every child,” Lee said in a speech on the Senate floor. “But I and many of my constituents, including those who home school their children or send their children to private or religious schools, have justifiable doubts that a foreign U.N. body, a committee operating out of Geneva, Switzerland should decide what is in the best interest of the child at home with his or her parents in Utah or in any other state in our great union.”

Groups like the HLDA argue that the treaty could allow the U.N. to mandate that parents who home school their disabled children to send them to government-run schools. (It says nothing of the sort.)  They may also be worried that adoption of the law could set a precedent for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which they oppose on equally specious, but perhaps slightly more comprehensible grounds 

It is indeed sad that a perfectly reasonable treaty was just rejected based on a complete misreading of it, but it's yet more evidence of how influential a small group can be when it gets very organized and very loud. 


Ecuador's president receives free speech award

The Committee to Protect Journalists may believe that "freedom of expression is under siege in Ecuador," and Freedom House may give Ecuador poor marks for press freedom, but Argentina's Universidad Nacional de La Plata apparently disagrees. On Tuesday, the university awarded Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa the Rodolfo Walsh Prize for battling the "hegemoic will that tries to restrict speech" and for enabling the "poor and marginalized sectors of society" to express themselves, in part by helping create the Latin American television network teleSUR and enshrining communication as a right in the country's constitution and laws. 

Americas Quarterly points out the contradictions in the university bestowing the prize -- one named after an investigative journalist who was killed in the 1970s during Argentina's "Dirty War" -- on Correa, who has repeatedly locked horns with Ecuador's private news outlets:

The U.S. government has long criticized Correa's record on freedom of speech, and granted political asylum to the Ecuadorian journalist Emilio Palacio in August after he faced a three-year prison sentence and a $40 million fine for referring to Correa as a "dictator" in El Universo.

Facing pressure from press freedom groups, Correa eventually pardoned Palacio and other executives who had received prison sentences. The U.S. offered asylum to Palacio just 24 hours after Ecuador granted asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in London, who published a series of classified U.S. government cables on his website.

When CNN's Erin Burnett asked Assange in November why, as a champion of free speech, he was seeking asylum in a country where the president had suggested that "freedom of expression should be a function of the state," Assange angrily dismissed the question. "Whatever little things are occurring in small countries are not of our concern," he noted, adding that Ecuador "is not a significant world player."

Correa, for his part, has relished the chance to mock his critics. "It turns out that there is such a lack of freedom of expression in Ecuador that one of the most important universities in Latin America has awarded the president a prize for the fight to have true freedom of expression and democratization of the media," he exclaimed sarcastically over the weekend. When he told his Twitter followers that he would be receiving the award, he couldn't help but add, "I know some people who should eat cement!" Not exactly the taunt you'd expect to hear from the winner of a free speech award.

Last year's recipient of the Rodolfo Walsh Prize? That paragon of press freedom in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.