On Thursday, a crowd of more than 200 people amassed at the state Capitol for an event led and organized by Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC). It’s the most recent iteration of an event that CHEC has held at the capitol annually for three decades.

“Consistently, the homeschool community comes out here to say to the state legislators and the power brokers here in the state of Colorado, ‘We’re here, and you either agree with us and respect us, or fear us,’” said former state Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) at the event. 

Conservative Christianity and homeschooling go back a long way. Historically, homeschooling has been promoted by religious leaders like James Dobson, founder of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, as an antidote to “godless and immoral” public school curricula.

But in these discussions, it’s important to note that the two movements are not intrinsically linked. Libertarian columnist and author Ari Armstrong told the Colorado Times Recorder that “there’s also a vibrant secular homeschooling community in Colorado, although without an official organization or a paid lobbyist.”

“Secularists who homeschool do so for various reasons, including quality of education, flexibility of schedule, and inclusivity for neurodiverse and LGBTQ children,” Armstrong said.

CHEC has a history of pushing anti-LGBTQ sentiment; notably, staff member Kevin Swanson, as a pastor, has previously called for gay people to be executed. Swanson did not speak at this week’s rally, but on the same day, he gave a keynote speech for the Relational Lifestyle Online Summit, run and promoted by CHEC.

CHEC’s overt bigotry has not softened in recent years. In a recent legislative update written by Carolyn Martin, who serves as CHEC’s Director of Government Relations, the group accuses LGBTQ rights in America of being driven by a nefarious “queer cult” aiming to brainwash children.

Prior to the rally, homeschool advocates were treated to a “special message” by Bill Jack, best known for his 2015 civil rights complaint against a Denver bakery that refused to make a cake with the message “God hates gays.” Jack is currently a candidate for Colorado’s House District 45, which is located in Douglas County.

Jack was among the Republican legislators and candidates who stood at the Capitol’s west steps on Thursday afternoon. Others included state Sens. Rod Pelton (R-Cheyenne Wells), Larry Liston (R-Colorado Springs), Cleave Simpson (R-Alamosa), and state Reps. Ron Weinberg (R-Loveland), Rose Pugliese (R-Colorado Springs), Brandi Bradley (R-Littleton), and Richard Holtorf (R-Akron). State Sen. Mark Baisley (R-Roxborough Park) was given CHEC’s Statesman of the Year award.

“[It’s said that] home education is a great alternative to public schools. I kind of think of it in the reverse: I’m thinking that public school is the alternative, barely acceptable alternative, to homeschooling and to private schooling,” Baisley said during his acceptance speech. “We ought to not do any more government schools than we absolutely have to do.”

Baisley accepts his award from CHEC Board President Bill Roach.

During the rally, Martin, who has previously served as state Rep. Stephanie Luck’s (R-Penrose) policy director, spoke at length about bills, both in Colorado and nationally, that she claimed would negatively impact both Christians and homeschoolers. Her words once again brought religious intolerance to the forefront of CHEC’s mission.

“Following your God-given conscience is being criminalized by anti-discrimination laws,” she said. “Bills that would continue to deny God’s created order of male and female, and life and death, are being pushed through by legislators who do not fear God.”

After saying anti-discrimination laws go against God, Martin quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., implicitly likening CHEC’s fight for homeschool freedom to the civil rights movement to end legalized racial discrimination.

“He said, ‘Freedom has always been an expensive thing. History is fit testimony to the fact that freedom is rarely gained without sacrifice and self denial.’ We stand here today because of the sacrifice of those who have gone before us to gain our freedom,” she said. “It will take our sacrifice to sustain it, and it will take us all standing together to ensure freedom for our posterity.”

The rally’s keynote address was given by Kevin Boden, Director of the National Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which views children as the property of their parents. One of Boden and HSLDA’s most notable cases was that of the Romeike family, who left Germany for America after being penalized for homeschooling their children. Boden and HSLDA argued that the German government had “persecuted” the Romeikes for being homeschoolers, and that they should be permanently granted asylum by the U.S. government.

“When you follow Christ and teach your children to do the same, in the eyes of those who don’t know him, that’s an idiosyncratic and illiberal and intolerant value.”

Boden made his message clear, saying American homeschoolers should be afraid of that “persecution” coming to the U.S. He warned of pressure coming from pushes for “social diversity” and people accusing Christian homeschoolers of being “intolerant.”

“Because this idea that home education should not be free, should not be left to parents, exists in America,” Boden said. “In 2006, a professor at UC Berkeley cautioned that government oversight requires exposure to and engagement with social diversity to ensure protection from what this professor describes as the civic perils of homeschooling. Civic perils. That’s what they said. In 2008, a professor at Northwestern Law School stated there should be legal and constitutional constraints on the ability of homeschooling parents to teach their children – Christian values, moral principles? No, this is her definition: idiosyncratic and illiberal beliefs and values. When you follow Christ and teach your children to do the same, in the eyes of those who don’t know him, that’s an idiosyncratic and illiberal and intolerant value.”

From his secular perspective, Armstrong acknowledged the possibility of homeschooling being imperiled in the U.S., but said he did not see any immediate cause for alarm.

“Although I do not see an immediate threat to the liberties of homeschoolers, obviously there are people who disapprove of homeschooling, so I think it’s worth restating the importance of families having the freedom to chart a course that works best for them,” he said.

Boden’s message was not all doom and gloom for Christian homeschool families. He ended his speech with words of encouragement and calls to action, including for families to support each other and bring others into the fold.

“Be a trailblazer,” Boden said. “If there’s something to pioneer and you’re part of the state, pioneer that thing. Create a Bible study. Join a co-op. Encourage a family to homeschool. Start something that’s needed.”