In this insightful episode, Dr. Michael Farris, the president, CEO, and general counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, shares his thoughts on the urgent need for employee education regarding the basic foundations of our government and the protection of our fundamental human rights. Dr. Farris was founding president of both the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College and continues to serve as chairman of the board of HSLDA and chancellor emeritus of PHC. With a special emphasis on constitutional law, he brings important facts to the forefront regarding the fragility of freedom, human flourishing, and prosperity. His experiences as a litigator, educator, public advocate, author, employer, and father provide him with unique perspectives. You will learn from his wisdom and be inspired by his leadership!
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Linda: I'm here with Michael Farris, a good friend, a longtime mentor, and someone that I respect highly. Michael is the President of Alliance Defending Freedom and I'll let him tell you a sentence about Alliance Defending Freedom.
Dr. Farris: Hi Linda, it's great to be with you.
Linda: Thank you.
Dr. Farris: Alliance Defending Freedom is the world's largest legal organization, defending God-given rights for people. Religious freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, right to life, marriage, and family. We focus on those five issues. And religious freedom and right to life, they're the two biggest.
Linda: Mm-hmm. Thank you for stating that. For those of you who don't know, I first met Michael Farris back, I think, 1982 potentially. I was involved with Concerned Women for America, a great grassroots organization of conservative women. And Michael was then the legal counsel.
Dr. Farris: I was. And just for the record, you were 7, and I was 10 in 1982.
Linda: Right. [laughs] Yes, exactly. But I remember reading all of the things that he wrote learning so much and knowing that he was a very wise man, and I always felt like he was just a great mentor. Then, he went on to form Home School Legal Defense Association. And both, he and Chris Klicka, who has now since passed away, I grew to know both of them quite well as a homeschool mom and they were great mentors, friends, and I'm just so thankful for all that they brought to the homeschool movement and to so many millions of families around the globe, really helping us to achieve freedom in homeschooling.
Dr. Farris: Well, HSLDA was very fortunate to be involved in a growing important movement where the law was completely bad when we started. You ask all 50 attorney generals, “Is it legal to homeschool in your state?” You asked them in ‘83, they'd say, “No.” You ask them all today, some of them reluctantly so but they'd all say, “Yes,” that it's legal to homeschool. And so we were able to help hundreds of thousands of families and millions of kids to receive an education that ensure that the values that the kids were learning were the values their parents endorsed and a great academic education on top of that.
Linda: On top of that, yes. I am so, so thankful for Home School Legal Defense Association, and for the example that Dr. Farris and his wife Vickie set. As a homeschool parent, it was so wonderful to know that they had our back and being early in the stage is one of the homeschooling pioneers. When I started homeschooling, it was still illegal in many states. In fact, the state that we chose to live in, we chose to live there because of the homeschooling law that had recently been changed. So, I'm really grateful for that.
Dr. Farris: You're welcome. And in fact, it was illegal for us when we started homeschooling. We hid, and our version of hiding was that my wife and daughter appeared in a front-page picture of the Seattle Times on a Sunday. So, we hid in plainsight. But we're really grateful. We homeschooled our kids for 33 years and then we just got tired of it one day and quit when they all graduated.
Linda: They all graduated.
Dr. Farris: Yeah. And our two youngest are still in school. The number 9 of 10 kids is finishing a PhD at Notre Dame in Biomedical Research, and number 10 is at Michigan State, just starting a PhD in Nuclear Physics.
Linda: It's amazing. Your passion for education didn't stop there. You went on to found Patrick Henry College. Could you say a little bit about that?
Dr. Farris: Well, I wasn't busy one Tuesday, so I thought I’d start a college.
Dr. Farris: Patrick Henry is now 20 years old, and it's a small Christian school that has a very much outsized impact. It's five majors. Majority of the majors are in government or strategic intelligence. A lot of our students go to law school. We've had five graduates from Patrick Henry now clerk for the Supreme Court of the United States because they went on to top-ranked law schools. Patrick Henry is known for winning National Moot Court Championships. There's only one moot court league and so we compete against all the big boys and University of Chicago, Virginia, Duke, and so on. And we've won 12 National Championships and one World Championship, and no other college has ever won two. So, we feel pretty good about that. We are UCLA under John Wooden in terms of moot court. And so it's been a great time, and I was there for 17 years.
Linda: Right. And it was a your vision that brought that to be. So thank you for the millions of families and people affected by the work there. It's really amazing. I know that you have also argued before the Supreme Court on many occasions.
Dr. Farris: Well, yeah, as long as your definition of many is two.
Dr. Farris: For years, I was introduced as having argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court and I'd have to say, “Yeah, that's true, as long as you know that one is a number,” but I argued two cases, one in the early 80s, ‘85, I think it was. And then the second one I just argued in March of 2018. And won both of them, one was on religious freedom, the Establishment Clause case, whether a blind student could use his state vocational rehabilitation funds to go to Bible college. And the state said, “No,” and the Supreme Court unanimously said, “Yes.”
Then, the second case I just argued in March of ‘18, and we won in June of ‘18, was whether California could close pro-life pregnancy centers for refusing to put up free ads for abortions or ads for free abortions, I should say. And that was a free speech case and we won that five to four. Should have been nine to zero but--
Linda: But we're glad you won.
Dr. Farris: We won. And the important thing is we won in California [unintelligible [00:07:56] and had to pay us nearly a million dollars attorney fees to boot, so that was pretty cool.
Linda: Well, and as you can probably tell, he knows the constitution quite well. And one of the things that I value most on my bookshelf is his Constitutional Law course. And I had all of my children take the course, but as a homeschool mom, I took the course as well. And if you're interested in taking his constitutional law course, where would they find that?
Dr. Farris: Well, Home School Legal Defense still runs the course. It's got my name on it, though I'm not actively teaching it at the moment. But one of my—
Linda: The content is there.
Dr. Farris: Yeah, the content is all I created and there are videos with me in the videos teaching it, but one of my former students went to Patrick Henry College. It was actually our very first national champion in moot court. He's now a lawyer at HSLDA, he's the teacher of the course.
Linda: I've been familiar enough with the course to remember before it ever could be available on the internet or anything. So, like back when we were 7 and 10, right?
Dr. Farris: That’s right.
Linda: So, the passion for education is there and we share that passion. And I think through my understanding of the Constitution and my passion for education, that's what led me to create the Prosperity 101 - Breakroom Economics™ Program and to work so closely with employers across this nation, to help them understand how to communicate with employees regarding the public policy issues that affect their jobs. As we know, so many employees go to the voting booth and they don't make the connection between policy and paycheck. Maybe they've never read the Constitution. They have no idea how to even vote to protect their rights. And so, my passion is to really help create that communication flow through quality materials and quality opportunities for employers, but I know that Dr. Farris shares that as well.
Dr. Farris: I do. I was so thrilled, Linda, when I heard about your program and it is exactly what is needed, will serve, not just an important, filling a critical gap in our system. We historically thought as a nation that public schooling would teach good civics. Well, they're not doing that anymore. And they're not teaching basic economics, they're not teaching good civics, to the point that socialism has reared its head in a way that is extraordinarily dangerous in this country where people would think-- would laugh at the idea that a socialist who'd have a serious chance to be elected President of United States, but people just need to know what it's all about.
And a lot of people, if you just simply teach them the principles of economics and freedom and law and truth-- most people in this country are good people, good solid people, and people that have the jobs are among the best of the best. And so, employers have the real opportunity and I think the stewardship responsibility to take the chance to make sure that their employees at least have the opportunity to learn the truth. And you don't have to tell people how to vote. Once they learn the truth, they'll figure that out for themselves.
Linda: They’ll figure it out, right.
Dr. Farris: And so this isn't any “get out to vote” drive or partisan, but it is believing that education will shape people. And we'll never have 100% success rate, nothing does, but it will make important inroads and really change patterns of behavior in a way that will have a material effect in this country. Once people know the truth, they are much less likely to be taken in by the superficial nature of most reporting in this country. And people are making political decisions for their life off of Facebook memes, which they're fun and some are hilarious but-- and I like them myself. I've created a couple, not too many, but I write more mid-level-length material on Facebook. I don't know how to use any other form of social media, but we should be thinking a little more in-depth. And this gives people a chance and an accessible way to have appropriate in-depth knowledge without having to get a PhD.
I mean this isn't deep. It's the right balance of practical, accessible, and attainable for anybody because these basic principles are just that. The people that read and understood the Federalist Papers were farmers with barely a sixth-grade education for the most part. And so, the working people of this country understood freedom and made sure that our country was governed in a free fashion after being created in a free fashion. And that's what you have to do again, is that just simply giving people the chance, the opportunity to believe the principles of freedom. It will resonate in their soul. And no amount of cajoling will be necessary. You just give them the truth, and it will do its own work.
Linda: Right. And was it Thomas Jefferson who said, “If people have the right information, they will make the right decision.” I hope I'm not misquoting that. But if we can provide that information to them in simple formats, and I feel that with the Prosperity 101™ materials, I've tried to really write it basically at an upper grade school level in so many ways so that it can be accessible for all employees. And the videos do make it accessible, even for those who might have trouble reading, but we can introduce them to the Constitution and the basic foundations of prosperity, and then help them understand some simple policies of prosperity that help them to rise. We want people to be prosperous. We want them to thrive. We want their lives to be meaningful and magical for them in a sense, not magical in a magic way, but really enjoyable and, yeah, we want them to feel fulfilled in their lives. And we can do that when we have freedom and opportunity.
Dr. Farris: Well, human flourishing--
Dr. Farris: --is what you're describing. And freedom is the only way that that's gonna happen.
Linda: It's true.
Dr. Farris: Freedom in a moral context is what produces human flourishing. That's what the Founders believed and what we demonstrated to the whole world. And if we fail to continue to understand those freedom principles, then flourishing stops happening, prosperity stops happening. And prosperity properly defined and the American experience in prosperity was it raised the life of everyone. Sure, some people do better than others, but that's true in any endeavor. I don't wanna go play golf with-- I go play, I wouldn't expect to win playing against Tiger Woods. If Tiger calls and wants to play, I'm there. I will go play with him. That was poorly worded, but I don't expect to win that.
Linda: But you have equal opportunity to golf.
Dr. Farris: I can go golf, that’s right.
Linda: And that's one of the things in America, is we have equal opportunity for everyone, but we do not guarantee equal outcomes.
Dr. Farris: Right. And a person can find what they're good at and go and be the best that they can be. And that's what all that anybody could ever ask is to have the opportunity to maximize their own giftings and talents. And so, America gives them that, and in any society that says that they're going to guarantee the outcome, that will always, by nature, suppress everyone's opportunity. We've had the privilege of being a few times in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Bloc countries during the days or shortly after the days, in some cases, Romania, I was there about a month after the fall of Ceausescu. And so it was still very much in the--
Linda: I remember when you went.
Dr. Farris: I've seen firsthand and talked to the people firsthand. It suppresses everyone. Doctors were making, as I recall, something like $35 a month. And who would go to medical school and do all that work if a person who has no schooling at all is also making $35 a month? It makes no sense. If you don't give people a chance to use their talents and thrive, everyone is depressed and you end up with this-- the Soviet system was-- I thought that if you could drop an older Kmart and the cheapest American cars into the middle of Moscow, there would have been a revolution overnight because they would see that the worst of American opportunity is so much better than anything that they had in the Soviet Union. Just simply, the plain comparison is remarkable. And no one has to be at the worst in America. We all have an opportunity to improve ourselves.
I grew up in a family that-- None of my grandparents went past like the third or fourth grade, none of them. And they were farmers and lumberjacks. My mom's family was essentially migrant workers during the Great Depression. They picked cotton and hoed lettuce. They did all the things that were done in The Grapes of Wrath. And now the grandson's argued cases in the Supreme Court of the United States and started a college. So, I come from very, very plain beginnings. My dad was a teacher. My mom was a mom and housewife. There is opportunity for everybody in this country who wants to work hard, no matter where you started.
Linda: My Lyft driver coming to your office was-- he immigrated from Cameroon. And he came here because he saw opportunity, and he wants to start his own clothing line. And so he was working for a company and then just learned the ropes, and he has this craving for freedom and opportunity. So, he's driving Lyft to fund his entrepreneurial endeavors. And I thought, “How great, only in America!” Right?
Dr. Farris: Yeah, that's right. And it's not because of our geography or topography or weather. Those things are good, but they're not the reason. It's the principles.
Linda: It's the principles that made this country great.
Dr. Farris: And so he sees that intuitively, it's obvious. And we just need to make sure that as many Americans as possible understand those principles.
Linda: I really believe that employers can be basically the tip of the spear to help reeducate our society. As you mentioned before, they're not getting any exposure even to the Constitution or to our nation's history in school anymore, most schools. And employers can be almost like that last line of defense because there's nothing more local than where you go to work every day. I mean, your family and where you go to work every day. So if all politics is local, we can help people understand these principles, and employers are uniquely positioned because they provide the paycheck.
Dr. Farris: Yeah. I would make sure that their legal counsel goes to the classes too because-- just to show you how much constitutional illiteracy has gripped us. You do not have to take constitutional law to graduate from Harvard Law School. You have to take international law, but not constitutional. There's an optional course on the 14th Amendment that most students take. But that's it. They don't get taught Commerce Clause or Presidential Power or any of that stuff in that course. And so, it's the few that ever learn that. And so, the students I send to Patrick Henry College and on to Harvard Law School, they had all of it before they went there, and so they didn't need Harvard for that purpose. So, this is an opportunity for the average employer to give their own employees a better education on the constitution than people get typically at Harvard Law School. So, when they're doing nothing, it's obviously improvement.
Linda: Well, that's great. If you could say, three things that you'd like to help employers remember about how important it is, what would you say?
Dr. Farris: Well, employers, as a CEO of a group of 300 staffers, I'm an employer too and not in an ownership sense but in a stewardship sense. We want our organizations to thrive, yes. But we know that if our people don't thrive, organizations don't thrive. And so, ultimately, we have to be concerned about the well-being of our people. Help your people thrive, help your community thrive, and help your nation thrive. This is a great way to do all three things.
Linda: That's great. Thank you. If people want to contact you, how should they contact you?
Dr. Farris: Just go to the ADF website, which is adflegal.org.
Linda: Okay. And you'll be inspired as you look at everything that Alliance for Defending Freedom does and you can also see books by Dr. Farris, I'm sure, on Amazon and a lot of bookstores, so you can look for that. But please follow him and visit the ADF website. And thank you for joining us today. I'm closing out for Prosperity 101 - Breakroom Economics™.
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