When Your Very Identity is Held Hostage: Alecia Pennington and Identification Abuse
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Alecia Pennington is one of nine children of James and Lisa Pennington.
James and Lisa are group leaders for the Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) and board members of the Hill Country Home School Association. THSC awarded James and Lisa their “2010 Leaders of the Year” award. Lisa is also a popular homeschool blogger who blogs at The Pennington Point and Hip Homeschool Moms and has spoken at homeschooling events such as the Homeschool Moms Winter Summit.
But according to recent revelations by Alecia, the 19-year-old daughter of the Pennington family, not all is as idyllic as it seems. According to a blog post by Lisa, Alecia fled her family last year on September 24, 2014, with the help of her grandparents. Alecia is now speaking up about how her parents are allegedly refusing to help her get documents necessary for operating in society. In a video posted on YouTube on February 9, 2015, Alecia claims that she was home-birthed and her parents neglected to file any birth certificate or record of any kind. They also allegedly never got her a Social Security number, have no school records for her, and have never taken her to a hospital (and thus she has no hospital records). “This leaves me with nothing to prove my identity or citizenship,” Alecia explains. “I am now 19 years old and I’m unable to get a driver’s license, get a job, go to college, get on a plane, get a bank account, or vote.”
You can watch the video below:
Alecia created a Facebook page, Help Me Prove It, as well as a Twitter account to bring attention to her plight. On February 10, 2015, Alecia posted a document explaining what steps she has already attempted to get the necessary documents and why they failed. According to that document, Alecia alleges that she tried to get the midwife that delivered her to find a birth record but the midwife “doesn’t seem supportive.” Furthermore, Alecia claims, after “requesting an affidavit to her birth facts and attesting to their citizenship,” James and Lisa Pennington “refused this request.”
Basically, according to these allegations, James and Lisa Pennington are holding Alecia’s very identity hostage.
The situation Alecia faces is what HA’s parent non-profit Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out has termed identification abuse. Identification abuse is destroying, holding hostage, or denying a child their identification documents: birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security card, and so forth. While such abuse can happen anywhere and everywhere regardless of one’s educational environment, homeschool kids (and alumni) are particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse because of certain anti-government and pro-parental rights attitudes in totalistic homeschool subcultures. Some people see identification documents as ungodly or even a “mark of the Beast,” a reference to the number 666 associated with the Antichrist in the Christian Book of Revelations.
Sadly, Alecia is not alone in her predicament. According to HARO’s 2014 Survey of Adult Alumni of the Modern Christian Homeschool Movement, out of 3703 respondents, 3.65% (or 135 respondents) experienced some form of identification abuse. Numerous testimonies from homeschool alumni denied identification documents can be seen at the Coalition for Responsible Home Education’s website. One alumna, Sarah, said,
[My parents deprived me of a social security number and birth certificate] because they believed they would give the government ownership of me & that God wanted his people to be unaffiliated with any government. I am unable to attend any school, drive, get a job, get a background check. I have been trying for 3 years and still have not been successful in obtaining any documentation whatsoever.
This situation transcends homeschooling. According to The Independent UK, “Globally, there are an estimated 220 million children under five across the world whose birth is not recorded.” That number is increasingly rapidly, as “51 million babies – almost one in three of all babies born across the world annually – …are not registered each year.” These are called “hidden children.” And the tragedy of these increasing numbers of hidden children is reflected in what can result from not having identification:
There is growing evidence that, without a birth certificate, such youngsters are more likely to be poorer than even the most disadvantaged of their peers, struggling to access healthcare, attend school, sit exams, or even get the vaccinations they need to survive… A child without a birth certificate, and therefore unable to prove his or her age, is more at risk of being exploited by being put to work, of being arrested and treated as an adult in the justice system, of being forcibly conscripted into the armed forces or child marriage, or of being trafficked. It is also almost impossible to open a bank account, get a passport, vote, or even gain employment, without a record of your birth.
By denying their children documentation of their existence and citizenship, such parents set up their children for future exploitation and abuse, even trafficking. They are forcing their children into jobs that are unsafe and/or lacking basic rights and protections. For example, I have heard from a number of homeschool alumni who were forced into sex work because they had no other ways to stay afloat.
Alecia is lucky to be supported and surrounded by caring extended family and friends who have taken her into their care. Not all children or homeschool alumni have such a safety net. They enter the adult world in extremely precarious and dangerous situations and their options for surviving in that world are limited.
Sadly, even with all the love and support she has, Alecia faces an uphill battle. And what is tragic about that battle is how unnecessary it is — if only her parents were willing to help her and/or filed the necessary paperwork years ago. Instead, they appear to only value their own “parental rights” to the point of being willing to sacrifice Alecia’s own rights as a person. This is one end result of the parental rights mindset championed by groups like HSLDA and ParentalRights.org, who believe children have no rights and are nothing more than spiritual “weapons” needing to be “carefully crafted” without government interference.
Even if they are right under the law, they are wrong in the court of morality.
** Update, 02/11, 2 pm:
James and Lisa Pennington have issued responses. Read them here.