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Attorney Deborah G. Stevenson, Executive Director

 

Bulletin #70     Voluntary Submission Of Information To The Government     08/15/09

 

Did you know? The question arises from time to time in the homeschool community – If the government is asking for information from parents about the education of their child, why shouldn’t we voluntarily provide the information even though it is not required by law?

 

Here are some thoughts about why it really is not a good idea.

 

1.      Does the government have any Constitutional authority, or statutory authority, to ask for the information or to retain the information?

 

         All too often, government officials, who have an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution and the rule of law, completely ignore that obligation.  When they make rules or adopt policies in the normal course of their day, how many of them stop before they act and ask whether the rule or policy they are about to establish has any basis in the Constitution or duly enacted statutory law?  You could do your own survey, but I would suggest that the answer is this:  not many.  Without a further thought, these government officials write letters or establish policies whereby they “request” that you provide information, collect that information, analyze the information, and use it for their own purposes.  These government officials may have absolutely no legal authority to do that.  If they do not, then by providing that information to them, you unwittingly become an accomplice to their lawbreaking.  Before you volunteer your information, it probably would be a good idea to do some research to see if the government official who is asking for it has any Constitutional or statutory authority to ask for it in the first place. 

 

2.      Voluntarily providing information can be considered an acquiescence to the premise, unstated or otherwise, that the government has more expertise, wisdom, authority than does a parent.

 

     Voluntarily providing information to someone who is politely asking for it can be considered a very nice thing to do.  However, when you do so, have you ever considered the premise by which that person is making the request?  Particularly when it is a government official making a request, ordinarily the request is premised on the fact that the government is the authority and the person being requested to provide the information is subjugated to the authority of that government official, whether by law or by the appearance of authority or superiority of the government official in some respect. Most of us are conditioned, especially today, to believe that the government is more powerful, has more authority, than we do.  Of course, this is not true according to the Constitution.  According to the Constitution, we the people have the ultimate authority.  We the people established government for the purpose of protecting those unalienable rights with which we are endowed at birth.  True, we have granted the government certain powers through adoption of our laws, but when we have not granted the government the power by law to demand information from us, we certainly do not have to accept the premise that somehow that government official, nonetheless, is the “authority”, is the all knowing, wise official, who quite naturally seeks the information for the greater good such that we have no real need or basis to question, and no real concern sufficient to deny that request.  It may be that any particular government official is acting quite innocently and genuinely seeks the information for the betterment of society, but by accepting the premise that it is quite natural that the government should seek and obtain the information from parents voluntarily, the premise is perpetuated even when government officials may not be acting with innocent intentions.  There is no harm in questioning the premise, especially when the government has no basis in law to seek the information.  Before you volunteer the information, it might be a good idea to ask if this is the premise with which you agree and want to perpetuate.

 

3.      If the information sought is not required by law to be provided, why would the government collect it?

 

     Think about that.  When there is no law that requires parents to provide any information about your child to the government, and if the government is aware of that fact, why would the government seek to collect it nonetheless?  Is the government in your state already in such compliance with all the other laws, and so bereft of work to do, such that it must go out of its way, at the taxpayers’ expense, to collect information it need not collect?  What is the real motivation behind the government request that you voluntarily provide the information that it seeks?  It might be a good idea to ask that question, and to get a valid response, hopefully in writing, before you decide to voluntarily provide any information to the government.

 

4.      What will the government do with the information collected?

 

     Before you voluntarily provide the information to the government official, is he willing to fully inform you about what exactly the government will do with the information it is seeking?  If not, why not?  If he has informed you, do you agree to allow your child’s information to be used in such a manner?  It might be nice to have answers to those questions before you decide to provide the information.

 

5.      Government officials may use the information collected from parents to make new law, regulation, or policy.

 

     It is highly unlikely that any government official is collecting information from parents, voluntarily or otherwise, simply to file it away in a cabinet or on a computer.  The government is seeking the information to make use of it in some manner.  Government makes use of information to make new laws, regulations, or policies, usually, for a particular purpose:   to control people in some way, restrict them in some way, or collect money from them in some way - or possibly for all three reasons.  Before you voluntarily provide the information to the government official, you have the right to obtain information from that government official about what that government official’s exact purpose for collecting that information is..  It is always best to obtain written responses from the government to the questions you ask rather than to accept a verbal response.  That’s because no one can prove that the government even gave any verbal response at all, let alone what it was, unless a court reporter is present taking his statement down when he gives it. If you ask a question in writing, and obtain a written response detailing what the government will do with the information volunteered, then if you find out later the information was used for some other purpose for which you did not consent, at least you can prove that the government official lied, and you can make it public that he lied, and hold him accountable.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know the exact purpose of the collection of the volunteered information before you volunteer it? But, understand that once you volunteer that information, the use of that information is totally out of your control.  You may find out about the use, but likely only after the fact.  Once it is used for a particular purpose, it’s too late to prevent any damage. It is also possible that once you “volunteered” the information, the government can claim that it is effectively the government’s property because you voluntarily gave it to them, probably unconditionally. Is that really what you want to do with information about your child?

 

6.      “Voluntary” may not really be “voluntary” after you agree to it.

 

     You may think that it is purely voluntary for parents to provide certain information, but you may be in for a big surprise.  Unfortunately, parents who “voluntarily” agree to do certain things the government asks them to do all too often are surprised that when they want to stop “volunteering” to do those things, the government will take official legal action against the parents to prevent them from halting the “voluntary” action.   This happens every day to parents who agree, for example, to “voluntary” services provided by a Child Protective Services agency.  The parents may need help for a child who has a disability of some kind, and may seek mental or physical therapy by agreeing to the “free” or low cost therapies provided by the government through the Child Protective Services agency.  The parent signs the “voluntary” agreement, obtains the services, then at some point decides the therapy alleviated the problem or decides for whatever reason to stop the services.  The government official, who has the authority to oversee the spending of taxpayer dollars for provision of those services may disagree with the parents that the problem is alleviated or that the therapy should stop.  So what does the government official do?  The official disregards the wishes of the parent and that the “voluntary” agreement should stop, and goes administratively or judicially to a higher government authority to obtain an order to continue those “voluntary” services, when, where, and how the government wants, whether or not the parent agrees.   In fact, this practice is fairly routine.  Judges condone it.  There is a substantial body of law indicating that courts will override the “voluntary” agreement, and the wishes of the parents, and grant the order against the wishes of the parents. Providing “voluntary” information to another agency of the government may end with a similar result.  Is that something that you are willing to risk?  The question needs to be asked before you volunteer anything.

 

7.      Voluntary provision of information may establish precedent for provision of the information to become compulsory.

 

     Even if the government official does not seek an administrative or judicial order to compel parents to continue to provide information once they “voluntarily” provide it, by voluntarily providing it, you may be establishing a precedent that will make it easier in the future for the government to make the provision of the information compulsory.  If you and the other parents in your community “voluntarily” provide information to the government, routinely, year after year, at some point, there may come a time when a government official decides he wants to make the practice compulsory.  That government official now has an entire history and tradition to refer to in his argument to the legislature, or to any other rule making body, that it is entirely within reason to compel the public to comply because many have been doing so already and have no problem with it. The government official also has a host of information to analyze, to obtain data from, and may then argue that it is imperative that government fixes a problem perceived during the analysis from the information already gathered.  Is that really what you want to do – to voluntarily give information to a government official who may, one day, use it against you to further regulate your rights as a parent?  It is something to ponder before you volunteer any information.

 

8.      The voluntary information you provide may wind up in databases without your consent and about which you never knew.

 

     You may voluntarily provide information to one government official, perhaps to your local superintendent of schools, thinking that’s where it will remain.  But, especially today, you have absolutely no guarantee that your information will remain in your local community. In fact, it is far more likely that your information will be sent not only to your State Education agency, but ultimately to the federal Education Department, and perhaps even to an international agency in some foreign country. Your information may wind up in the hands of the United Nations.  You may think that’s farfetched.  Unfortunately, it is becoming more of a reality every day.  If you have some time on your hands, it might be worth your while to look up the statutes in your state, and then the statutes adopted by Congress at the federal level.  You may be surprised to learn that there are an ever-increasing number of statutes that talk about implementing “compacts” or “agreements” with other states, and other countries, for all sorts of wonderful sounding reasons.  Some compacts are made so that states and countries can “assist” each other in times of emergencies.  Other compacts are made for the sake of the children, to make it easier to obtain child support.  Still other compacts are made in the name of educating children about the international global community.  If compacts are made, the chances are good that information is being exchanged in order to further the goals of the compact. Information today is exchanged fairly easily electronically.  Today also, the government is seeking to establish even more central databases to make it even easier to exchange information.  Do you know what databases the information about your child will go into eventually?  Again, once you “voluntarily” provide information to the government, the government likely will be free to use that information in whatever manner it deems appropriate.  Is that really what you want to happen to information concerning your child?

 

     Most parents are good-hearted, honest, and have nothing to hide.  Most parents, when asked, quite naturally would be inclined to be polite and forthcoming and provide whatever information anyone wants.  This is truly a sign of the goodness and respectfulness of many parents. Everybody wants to be nice, and it’s important to be nice, even to the government when appropriate. Unfortunately, today’s parents must consider the need to protect all information about their children because that information be distributed far beyond our borders.  Unfortunately, today, it’s probably wise for parents to be parents first, and to be nice to the government last.

 

 

www.nheld.com

Attorney Deborah Stevenson - Executive Director of National Home Education Legal Defense – email : info@nheld.com

Judy Aron - Director of Research, NHELD – imjfaron@sbcglobal.net