Sen. DeMint taps brakes on UN treaty as home-school opposition grows

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is delaying Senate consideration of the United Nations treaty on people with disabilities amid growing opposition from home-schooling advocates.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was scheduled to take up the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities on Thursday, with the goal of getting it passed in time for the 22nd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26. Instead, Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) announced that he will hold the markup next Thursday, July 26.

A spokesman for DeMint said several Republicans on the committee joined him in asking for the delay.

"Part of this treaty deals with abortion and the rights of children, issues that should be addressed by states, local governments and American parents, not international bureaucrats," DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton told The Hill in an email. "Sen. DeMint strongly opposes this treaty, as the United States is already the world leader in addressing the needs of the disabled and it’s foolish to think Americans need to sign away our sovereignty to exert our influence around the world."

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The treaty has broad bipartisan support, with many senators — including Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — arguing that it would merely extend the protections of the ADA to people with disabilities around the world, including Americans living abroad. 

But some home-schooling advocates are worried about “international bureaucrats” telling them how to raise their children. In a 2007 study, 6 percent of parents of the nation's 1.5 million home-schooled students cited health or special needs as the reason for educating at home.

“Is this something that really needs to go through the UN,” said an aide to one Republican lawmaker opposed to the treaty, “or can it be done through a bilateral treaty?”

The aide said the treaty popped up on the congressional radar very quickly about one month ago, and DeMint and others want to slow it down in order to give opponents a chance to have their voices heard. The Home School Legal Defense Association is one of the groups leading the charge against the treaty on Capitol Hill, with the help of former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum. 

“The [U.N. treaty] would usurp the rights and powers of parents here in the United States to do what is best for their special-needs child by placing the law of the U.N. above the rights of the parents,” Rick and Karen Santorum said in a statement. “It is the job of our elected representatives to preserve these rights, not hand them off to unaccountable international bureaucrats."

The home-schooling group is urging its members to send a message to senators telling them to oppose a treaty that “surrenders U.S. sovereignty to unelected U.N. bureaucrats and will threaten parental control over children with disabilities.”

“If the Senate ratifies this treaty,'” the message says, “it would be the first time ever that the U.S. has ratified a treaty that obligates us to recognize economic, social and cultural entitlements as rights under domestic law. Please take the time to examine this treaty carefully.”

Some conservative Republicans remain unconvinced. 

A spokeswoman for Barrasso tells The Hill that his support for the treaty remains the same as when he spoke in support at a Senate hearing last week.

“The convention offers the United States a forum to utilize our wealth of knowledge and practical experiences to influence other nations in recognizing the rights for people with disabilities,” Barrasso said as he entered a letter of support from President George H.W. Bush — who signed the ADA into law — into the Congressional Record. “It can help in advancing policies so Americans with disabilities can receive the same protections while working, studying and traveling abroad, including, very importantly, our veterans.”

This post was updated at 7:15 p.m. with comment from Sen. DeMint's office.