Organization Trends

“Dark Money” and the Battle Against Christian Homeschooling


Europe’s conservative faithful have long been under fire from “progressives” infuriated by the historic Christian views of abortion, education, and marriage. Now they’ve found a new target: America’s Evangelicals.

At the center of this salvo is openDemocracy, a British investigative journalism outlet that bills itself as “independent,” “diverse,” and resistant to “groupthink”—at least if it’s conservative groupthink. But like so much of the legacy media, openDemocracy is populated by professional activists with a left-wing political agenda. As the group boasts:

We are feminist, anti-racist, we challenge all forms of unjust power or discrimination. And we invest in leadership, training, mentoring and learning from underrepresented groups—because if we change the media, we change the debate.

In recent years, openDemocracy has launched a salvo of attacks on supposed European “hate groups” supporting centuries-old Christian teaching, pointing out that many of them receive funding from donors in the United States.

Targeting ADF-I

One of the central targets of these attacks is Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF-I), the Vienna-based arm of a well-known American legal advocacy nonprofit created in 1994. Although ADF was founded by Christians, it has also defended the religious liberty of Jewish, Muslim, and other non-Christian clients. One of the organization’s most famous clients was Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado bakery that was sued by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in 2012 for declining to bake a gay couple’s wedding cake. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the commission had violated the baker’s rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

In 2019, openDemocracy criticized ADF-I for not publicly disclosing its donors despite being active in a campaign to oppose physician-assisted suicide in the U.K., using data from the notoriously bigoted and partisan Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to label it a “hate group.”

Earlier this year, openDemocracy again attacked ADF for providing legal counsel in a 2021 Supreme Court case defending donor privacy (Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta). Leftists largely decried the ruling as a victory for “dark money,” but the liberal Human Rights Campaign, NAACP, and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) all filed amicus briefs supporting donor privacy rights.

The “Dark Money” Ocean

Yet for all its attacks on American “dark money”—a phrase that appears some 34,000 times on its website—openDemocracy appears blind to the Left’s ocean of secret cash.

Arabella Advisors leads one of America’s largest “dark money” networks, responsible for raking in $1.7 billion in 2020 alone. Cash was then funneled to activists promoting DC statehood, Democratic Senate candidates, and court-packing schemes. Yet this network goes entirely unmentioned by openDemocracy.

OpenDemocracy also maintains an online petition to “get dark money out of UK politics” and stop “’shadowy’ groups funneling anonymous money into” Britain. Apparently those concerns don’t extend to George Soros, the man who “broke the Bank of England” in 1992 and now uses his enormous wealth to fund “progressive” social engineering causes in Britain, America, and the developing world.

Soros might be the face of “dark money” in the U.S., but to openDemocracy he’s merely a “philanthropist . . . who has dedicated himself to the promotion of an open and flourishing civil society.”

OpenDemocracy itself has received substantial funding from liberal foundations in the United States. Groups in George Soros’s Open Society Network funneled close to $1.5 million to the overseas group between 2016 and 2020. One Soros grant is tagged for supporting openDemocracy’s “investigation into far-right campaign investments for the European Parliamentary election.” Another grant was for its “work on democratic practice.”

The Ford Foundation—perhaps the largest funder of leftist groups in the country—paid for an openDemocracy website in 2019 that “shares ideas[,] experiences[,] and learning related to gender inequality.”

Other funders include the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which funds environmental activists; Wallace Global Fund, an abortion funder controlled by the family of ex-vice president Henry Wallace, himself long suspected of holding ties to top communists in America and the Soviet Union; Luminate, created by the nonprofits associated with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar; and NEO Philanthropy, a major pass-through for liberal donors.

NEO Philanthropy also sponsors openDemocracy’s U.S. arm, which under IRS rules isn’t required to publish its budget or board members.

OpenDemocracy also fundraises through a separate U.K. charity: The Open Trust, which is funded by the U.S.-based Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Foundation for a Just Society, and Partners for a New Economy. The latter is a network of center-left donors and foundations representing the Omidyar Network, Ford Foundation, Marisla Foundation, and Swiss-based Oak Foundation, among others.

Attacking Homeschooling in the U.S.

Earlier this year, openDemocracy launched an investigation into America’s “far-right” homeschooling movement, accusing it of ties to “groups that oppose women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.” The attacks leveled against the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a 35-year-old nonprofit that provides legal protection and curricula to over 100,000 families nationwide, as well as resources regarding homeschooling abroad.

HSLDA calls itself a Christian organization, a faith shared by many if not most of its member families.

Christian homeschooling was practically unknown in America before the 1960s, when Reformed theologians like R.J. Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer revitalized the Protestant Reformation’s long-dormant view of shaping culture along biblical lines.

But now Bible-based homeschooling in America has exploded in recent decades and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 5.4 percent of households with school-age children reported they were homeschooling. By May 2021, that figure had risen to 19.5 percent.

OpenDemocracy has criticized HSLDA’s promotion of Brazil’s homeschooling movement for “promoting physical violence”—parents spanking their children for misbehaving—”as a teaching tool,” with support from Alliance Defending Freedom International. (HSLDA founder and board chair Michael Farris also works as ADF’s president.)

Global Campaign Against Home Schooling

More broadly, the attacks are part of the Left’s global campaign to minimize or even outlaw homeschooling codified in the Abidjan Principles on the Right to Education in 2019, which use the U.N. human rights framework to mandate free public education.

The Abidjan Principles nominally preserve parents’ right to choose private education for their kids—so long as their curricula conform to “standards established by the State in accordance with its obligations under international human rights law.” In other words, it’s a hollow “right.”

“The Abidjan Principles is a private declaration calling on governments to exercise total regulatory control over all aspects of private education,” HSLDA senior counsel Michael Donnelly told Capital Research Center. “Instead of respecting parents’ role in determining their children’s education, the Abidjan Principles are a roadmap to subject private education to state control and U.N. ‘experts’ in every conceivable area.” He believes that that kind of top-down approach would lead to “less pluralism, lower quality, and greater risk of student indoctrination in state-approved ideology,” while “calling for less competition and less choice for parents.”

Donnelly contrasts Abidjan with the Rio Principles signed in Brazil in 2016, which affirm parents’ right to home education. “The Rio Principles remind governments that parents have a prior right to make educational decisions and that governments must respect these rights,” he explained, which is “an essential foundation to maintain a free and self-governing society.”

Soros’s Open Society Justice Initiative—the “human rights litigation” arm of Open Society Foundations—is a signatory to the principles. In 2020, his Foundation to Promote Open Society awarded $35,000 to UNESCO—the UN’s education agency—to promote implementation of the Abidjan Principles in “a select number of countries.” In total, the Open Society Network has granted close to $230,000 to overseas groups promoting the principles in Nepal, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Uganda.

More Popular Than Ever

To homeschool choice advocates, that may sound bleak. Yet government school activists are likely to be disappointed. In 2021, EdChoice polled parents and discovered that 60 percent of parents now view homeschooling more favorably after COVID-19 than before the pandemic, thanks to the flexibility it affords and learning benefits made possible by technology.

Supporters might rightly suggest that teachers unions and school administrators squeezed families hardest in the 2020 lockdowns—only to see students slip between their fingers. For parents who’ve come to see the benefits of freedom in how they introduce their children to the world, the future looks bright.

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is a Senior Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. He is also a columnist at the Washington Free Beacon and writes regularly for the American Conservative. Ludwig is…
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