When Mike Farris, the outgoing CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom – our nation’s premier Christian legal advocacy group – assumed his current role in 2017, he announced three major goals:
First, he said he wanted to grow the organization. Second, he stated plans to make sure ADF concentrated its efforts on defending and winning “generational”- type cases that would protect our fragile religious freedoms. And lastly, he made a commitment to help find and train his successor.
“I’ve learned when it’s time to pass the torch,” he shared. “Not when I’m ready to leave, but when the person I am mentoring is ready to lead.”
With Kristen Waggoner set to assume the ADF presidency on October 1st, all three of Farris’ goals have been met.
This steady, selfless, and humble approach has characterized the wide scope and span of Farris’ extraordinary career. Yet, while the gifted and highly decorated lawyer may have a reputation for his humility, it by no means has stifled or slowed his more than four decades of professional effectiveness.
While president, Ronald Reagan famously had on his desk in the Oval Office a sign that read, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
Born in Conway, Ark., back in 1951, Farris has embraced that same credo. Time has a way of fading memories and losing track of who did what and where and when, but make no mistake about the critical roles Mike Farris played across evangelical America. His work has reformed laws and institutions – and transformed countless lives in the process.
Without Mike Farris, American families would likely not have the same level of freedom to educate their children at home.
Already in the midst of schooling their children, Michael Farris founded the Home School Legal Defense Association back in 1983. In contrast to today, with over two million children being schooled at home, homeschooling then was a true outlier – and many families were running up against either aggressive or simply ignorant government officials making life difficult for homeschooling moms and dads.
“I was a homeschool dad first, and as a lawyer experienced in first amendment litigation, the homeschooling community started calling me, asking me for help,” Farris recalled. “And I figured out that there was a real need to organize the movement into an opportunity to protect all of our rights.”
But what motivated Farris and his wife, Vickie, to begin home schooling in the first place?
“Well, the basic reason we started homeschooling is that we learned from an educational psychologist that kids get their values from whomever they spend a majority of their time with,” Farris remembered. “And so we saw our oldest daughter, who was in the first grade at the time, caring way too much about what her fellow six-year-olds thought about life. Her mom and I thought that we were smarter than a bunch of six-year-olds and that we’d rather transmit our values than the six-year-olds transmitting their values. And so we heard about it, we thought great, we thought we’d try it for a year.”
With ten children, one year turned into more than three decades of homeschooling.
“Mike Farris’ contribution to religious freedom and parental rights during his leadership of HSLDA cannot be overstated,” reflected Bruce Hausknecht, Focus on the Family’s legal analyst. “At a time when state governments were trying to impose curriculum and other requirements as to what home-schooling parents could teach their children, Farris and HSLDA stood up and almost single-handedly preserved the constitutional rights of parents to teach their children as they saw fit. We have Farris to thank for a generation of successful, freedom-loving and God-fearing homeschooled students currently making their marks across the country, from government to business to education, who also are raising up the next generation of exceptional Americans.”
In 2000, Michael Farris founded Patrick Henry College, a highly rated Christian institution whose mission is to “prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding.”
All of this because one committed and dedicated man took his gifts and talents and followed the leading of the Holy Spirit in his professional life. Scrappy, resourceful, and resilient, Farris has always had the courage to stand up to the bullies – and yet always in a principled and polite manner.
But Michael Farris’ successes extend well beyond ADF, HSLDA and Patrick Henry College. Having just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary, Mike and Vickie are now enjoying their 29 grandchildren. Jacob Michael was the latest one born this past August. “The greatest gift you can give to your children is a stable and happy marriage,” he recently said.
As he transitions out of the CEO role, Farris will continue on with ADF in a variety of different ways, but his commitment remains unwavering.
“Our core mission remains the same as it ever was: to keep the doors open for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now is not the time to slow or slacken our pace. We must recommit to our mission, with renewed energy, grace, and courage. Under Kristen’s leadership, and by God’s grace, we will.”