Interview With Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff
Seelhoff vs. Welch: Introduction
Mark and Helen Hegener
Eight years ago, in the May/June, 1991 issue of this magazine, we published a feature section criticizing a group of individuals whose activities we believed were adversely affecting the homeschooling community. This feature section, reprinted in booklet form and later made available on the Internet, outlined the centralization of homeschooling networks as a tool to maintain a narrowly-based political constituency. Previously broad-based support groups, conferences, and publications were being turned away from the support of homeschooling as wideranging and multifaceted, and were being used to promote "one right way" to homeschool, with that way more closely resembling traditional schooling methods. Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk was a clarion call that something was seriously amiss.
Around the same time we were researching and publishing Homeschooling Freedoms at Risk, a small magazine was beginning to build a readership within the homeschooling community. Gentle Spirit magazine's pages were filled with common-sense advice about dozens of topics: cooking, cleaning, teaching, gardening, crafts, music, and more. It was a rising star in the small field of magazines which appealed to homeschoolers.
But there was one vital difference: this little magazine's publisher was not a part of the effort to centralize and control information about homeschooling. Within that narrow-based segment of the homeschooling community, speaking clearly to its members, this magazine's publisher acted independently.
In 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was designed to ensure that economic liberty was maintained and to outlaw all contracts, combinations, and conspiracies that unreasonably restrain interstate trade. The Sherman Act is violated when a group conspires to keep other business owners from competing with them, in effect, when a few businesses consolidate power to the degree that they become the only game in town.
Because antitrust conspiracies are secret, they are often hard to prove. When there has been an illegal conspiracy, the Sherman Act may be enforced in one of several ways: by criminal or civil enforcement actions brought by the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice, by civil enforcement actions brought by the Federal Trade Commission, or by lawsuits brought by private parties asserting damage claims.
In May of 1997, after almost three years of harassment, intimidation, and constant worry, Gentle Spirit publisher Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff filed suit in U.S. District Court against several defendants, including Sue Welch, publisher of The Teaching Home magazine; Michael Boutot, Executive Director of the Christian Home Educators of Ohio (CHEO); Gregg Harris, formerly of Christian Life Workshops and now with Noble Institute; and Mary Pride, publisher of Practical Homeschooling magazine.
When prominent individuals and organizations within a small movement are involved in such an extraordinary series of events, culminating in a trial of this nature, one would expect it to shake the very foundations of the movement. Yet the information surrounding this suit was effectively silenced, and indeed, the very existence of this suit has been kept hidden from a large segment of the homeschooling community for more than two years.
Information is a tool people use. Given certain information, people will make certain choices and decisions. Given different information, they're likely to make different choices and decisions. A democracy works because it is self-correcting: People listen to ideas and proposals, discuss benefits and problems. When the free flow of information is diverted, filtered, and distributed only through certain sources, there is an effective censoring, a supression of information which short-circuits the process, impedes true understanding, and leaves people vulnerable to manipulation for personal, political, or other gain.
Cheryl's lawsuit shows that there is a narrowly-based special interest group functioning within the homeschooling movement - a small part of the Christian homeschool community - which is willing to break the law to achieve control and to manipulate others for their own gain. The court transcripts give us a clear picture of just how far this group is willing to go to maintain control.
The issue here is not morals, or beliefs, or a choice of lifestyle. We will not debate those points. The issue is control. The question is: Did these people have a right to coerce Cheryl to act in a particular way? And when she would not be coerced, did they have a right to destroy the business which was supporting Cheryl and her children? The jury issued a unanimous "No!" to those questions.
In the closing arguments for the trial, defense attorney Rudy Lachenmeier stated, "Folks, there's only one conspiracy here, and that is: There's a conspiracy to be a good Christian." We have no objection to people wanting to be "good Christians". We do object to people victimizing others in their religious zeal.
In the case of a clear injustice, someone must speak out. Perhaps the Christian homeschool community would have led the protest if the extent of the persecution was known. But it was not. And although much of this significant part of homeschool history is past, we would like to play our part in reporting it, to help you, our readers, to know the facts. We want to make it clear that when we speak against injustice, it is not because we "hate their religion," as the members of this special interest group have claimed in the past (and will undoubtedly continue to claim). No - it is injustice, and control, and manipulation that we have always stood against.
When you read the transcripts and related articles on this lawsuit, keep in mind the larger issues: Where does respect and tolerance for personal beliefs end and entitlement to special privileges begin? Should a set of religious beliefs (however strongly held) also grant a license for controlling another person's life and livelihood?
This trial is now part of the history of the homeschooling community. To aid understanding, we are publishing an interview with Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff; a Special News Watch Report on this trial by Linda Dobson; and an in-depth article by Shay Seaborne.
Special Report: Seelhoff vs. Welch
Interview With Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff - Helen Hegener