Education & Academia

After homeschoolers lobby, UN disabilities treaty fails

After homeschoolers lobby, UN disabilities treaty fails

A United Nations human rights treaty that drew broad ire from conservative groups was rejected by a slender margin on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon. The vote was 61 for to 31 against, six “aye” votes shy of the two-thirds majority necessary to pass a treaty.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ostensibly would have expanded access and opportunity for the disabled. But opponents, particularly those in homeschooling and faith-based organizations, argued that it redefined parental rights more narrowly while impinging on U.S. sovereignty.

In a floor speech Tuesday morning, Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons (Del.) acknowledged his office had been barraged with calls from homeschooled families in his district urging him to vote against the treaty, although he dismissed the calls as stemming from scare tactics and said he still planned a “yes” vote.

The director of Federal Relations for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, Will Estrada, said turnout from the organization to lobby against the treaty had been historic.

“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.

According to HSLDA records, member families sent anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 letters and emails to lawmakers, urging them to oppose the treaty.

The odds were already stacked against the Democrats for the treaty’s passage: months ago, 36 Republicans signed on to a letter saying they would oppose the consideration of any treaty during the lame duck session, out of deference to new members who should be given a chance to consider such weighty and binding matters. But Democrats may have seen this lame duck session as a last opportunity to pass measures requiring significant Republican support before the Senate welcomes a new class that includes staunch conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Some fear Senate Democrats may move next to pass the even more controversial Law of the Sea Treaty, though failure to pass the disabilities treaty may discourage such efforts. Estrada said the next battle for homeschool families will be a fight against the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which also negatively redefines parental rights.

“(The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) was a test vote for other treaties,” he said.

Here are some statements from opponents on what the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would have done:

“The question is, who should make critical decisions regarding the care and raising of children who have disabilities? Their parents or United Nations social workers? “There is no need for the CRPD, as our nation’s state and federal laws already protect our precious loved ones with disabilities. It is outrageous that U.S. senators would support a treaty that surrenders U.S. sovereignty and family integrity to unelected UN bureaucrats.”
-J. Michael Smith, President of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association

“Americans should be the ones making laws for America. If improvements are needed to the laws, that already are the leading examples of providing freedom and justice for persons with disabilities, this will open the door for infringing upon our sovereignty by subjecting the United States to foreign, anti-American biases.”
-Penny Young Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee

“With the admittedly hurried passage of the Affordable Care Act and other similar pieces of legislation we have seen that there are those in Congress who have little problem with passing laws only to find out what’s in them later. But I was not elected to pass as many pieces of legislation as possible. I was elected to pass legislation that directly benefits my constituents in Utah and the people of the United States while protecting their freedoms and unalienable rights as citizens.”
-Sen. Mike Lee, (R-Utah)

“It is not something which the United States needs to sign on to, but there is a great emotional case being made that we need to do this. I think it’s a great opportunity to talk about trans-national law, and how there is an insidious and dedicated movement to attack U.S. sovereignty.”
-Sen. Jon Kyl, (R-Ariz.)

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