A chat with Michael Farris
BACKSTORY | Reflections on lawyering, education, and singing sweetly
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In 2018 attorney Michael Farris faced off against the state of California at the U.S. Supreme Court. Lawyers for the Golden State argued Christian pregnancy care centers should be required to tell clients about their options for abortion. Farris, on behalf of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, argued they should not—and won. Farris, who wrote our cover essay on parental rights, first felt called to such battles when he was just a boy.
How did God make it clear to you that this was your calling? The call to be a lawyer for Christian causes came very early, starting in the fourth grade. I was interested in politics. My dad told me I should become a lawyer. Later, my dad (a public school principal) urged me to defend school districts against the ACLU. By the time I got through law school I realized most schools were on the same side as the ACLU.
When did you first realize homeschoolers would need lawyers in their corner? My family started homeschooling in 1982. Almost at once I got requests for legal help from people in California and Washington state, which both required children to have certified teachers. People said they wanted a Christian homeschooling lawyer. What they really wanted was a free lawyer. I realized that the need was going to grow rapidly but unless we created a cooperative community we would never have the resources to defend our rights. Thus, Home School Legal Defense Association was born.
What would you say is the least visible, most insidious aspect of the overall battle for parental rights? Most people don’t know the Supreme Court has really muddied the water on the legal standard for parental rights, shifting away from considering them fundamental. That’s why the progressive movement is so emboldened.
You helped found Patrick Henry College (PHC), an institution writer Hanna Rosin dubbed “God’s Harvard.” How would you describe its impact on Christianity and on the larger culture? PHC grads are in the early stages of cultural impact. A handful have clerked for the Supreme Court, and at least two have argued cases before it. But the impact goes far beyond the legal field. I see alumni leading churches, businesses, families, and much more. They bring a well-informed winsomeness to many sectors of our society.
Tell us about your (very large!) family. We have 10 children, our 30th grandchild is due this month, and … drumroll please … our first great-grandchild is due on Christmas. Vickie and I have been married for 52 years.
Now that you’re partially retired, how do you spend your time? I still work a fair amount, but I like to play golf. I play nine holes about four times a week.
If you could spend an entire year learning something completely new, what would it be? I would really like to learn to speak Spanish. There is so much spiritual growth and cultural opportunity going on in Latin America that I would like to be better equipped to assist in bringing a full Christian worldview to our friends in this crucial region.
If you could go back and give advice to your 30-year-old self, what would it be? Learn to sing the song sweetly. My lyrics were OK—even solid. But my melody needed work. The message I have been called to deliver is best delivered with both solid lyrics and a sweet melody.
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