An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.”
– G.K. Chesterton, On Running After One’s Hat, All Things Considered, 1908
By David Tulis
A devout Christian family in Kerrington, Texas, has shed tears over a rupture with a 19-year-old daughter who left home and claims to be the victim of what one homeschool group calls “identification abuse.”
What seems to be overlooked in the momentary Internet sensation is that Alecia Pennington is a freer person legally than most Americans. While she is frustrated in her efforts to “obtain her basic birthright as an American,” she might wish to consider that the birthright in question is largely a negative (like a mole on one’s cheek) rather than a positive.
Lacking paperwork “proving her existence,” she is said to be unable to vote, get a job, drive a car as a state licensee or obtain privileges and benefits such as those accessed through FAFSA, the student financial aid grid run by the U.S. government. Miss Pennington and her supporters believe that because she exists largely as a natural person without the trappings and handles that allow her a relationship with the state, that she is at a disadvantage for which her parents are wholly to blame.
Her persona propria
The uproar over her legal inability to access components of the welfare state suggest just how deeply the idea of progressive and absolutist government have infected the soul of the ordinary American. She is a free person, but views the capacity of legal liberty as incapacity, as being hobbled, bound and constrained.
She lacks a birth certificate and doesn’t have a social security number, and in a conflict with her parents has helped press outlets portray parents James and Lisa Pennington as having damaged this one of nine children. The Penningtons are active in the Hill County Home School Association and in 2010 were named leaders of the year by a state association. Mrs. Pennington argues for Christian homeschooling and parenting at a blog, Hip Homeschool Moms (hiphomeschoolmoms.com) and The Pennington Point (Thepenningtonpoint.com)
The daughter left home Sept. 24 at 18 with the help of grandparents. “It has been really hard and we all miss her terribly,” Mrs. Pennington writes on her blog, “but I have learned a lot about how to deal with grief throughout the past month. I definitely have days when I feel like I can hardly breathe and just cry for no reason.”
The controversy between daughter and family burst into view when the young woman launched a campaign on YouTube and Facebook (“Help me Prove It”) seeking help in obtaining ID documents. In the video she says she was born at home, that her parents did not obtain a state birth certificate, did not apply for a social security number, that she was homeschooled “and therefore has no school records,” as the Christian Science Monitor puts it. “[S]he has never been to a hospital and is without medical records.” Miss Pennington says her parents are refusing to help her, a claim her mother rejects. “She appears caught in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic web,” a news report says. Miss Pennington says she obtained a letter Oct. 1, 2014, from the Texas Department of State Health Services saying no record of her birth exists, and that she should apply for a delayed birth certificate.
“I am now 19 years old,” Miss Pennington explains on her video, “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.”
She has support. The group Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out says one in 25 homeschool grads suffers “identification abuse” in which guardians “destroy, deny, or hold hostage their child’s identification documents, such as a birth certificate, driver’s license, or social security card.”
Mr. Pennington is a man who values liberty and independence. He has been involved in the Texas Constitution Party, which is aggressively pro-life, pro-free market, libertarian, Christian and constitutionalist in its outlook, hostile to federal taxation, foreign wars and the Federal Reserve System. He is a tax attorney and certified public accountant (penningtontaxlaw.com) who has had scraps with the IRS over personal tax liability. He oversees The Anchor Group, which Mr. Pennington identifies as a church within the meaning of the internal revenue code, a news report says.
Mr. Pennington says he is willing to make legal attestation as to the identity of his daughter. “I have some wonderful news,” Miss Pennington writes Feb. 12 on Facebook. “My father has begun cooperating with us! He states he is willing to sign any documents, and give me any information he has concerning what I may need as proof.”
Access to the state
The young woman’s lack of identifying documents and proofs is less scandalous than it appears. In court people testify without having to submit identification documents or to bear SSNs. Identification can be established by a midwife’s or parent’s affidavit, or a DNA test. These documents and results can be made an uncontested legal record by “notorious publication” in, say, the classifieds section of the local newspaper. Public documents not rebutted create a presumption of veracity. The family presents these claims to the state either administratively or judicially to obtain a birth certificate.
The conflict between mom and dad on one side and a daughter on the other is grievous. But it appears that Miss Pennington’s views about accomplishing her goals in the direction of college, travel and livelihood are conventional, whereas those of her parents might not be.
To prosper, Miss Pennington seeks to create a corporate person, her artificial personhood that might fairly be called her avatar. Your avatar is the legal entity that represents you to the state and to corporations. With your avatar, you access that most crucial innovation of the modern welfare state: Credit. With an official identity (birth certificate, SSN) you enter the banking and credit system, no questions asked. Through your avatar, you approach the state and request that you be allowed to use the public road as a privilege. By having an SSN, you claim you have he right to marry by obtaining a state license to exercise a common law right given to every human being by God from the time of creation. By being reformulated into a corporate persona, you are made visible to public school systems from which you seek to obtain your intellectual and spiritual prosperity. With the linchpin of a government ID, you are free to amass debt in taking college classes to obtain an engraved sheet of paper.
By contriving to get a Texas birth certificate and a U.S. social security number, Miss Pennington affirms her distrust of older forms of identity and personhood. She seeks to attain instead the artificial ones to which attach not just perceived benefits, but liabilities and dangers.
Identity thieves and hackers always target the avatar for their theft, fraud and misrepresentation. Using borrowed avatars, they gain access to digits that represent dollars useable in the marketplace, and these dollars redirect to their own profit, leaving in the wake of their cunning false criminal charges, a credit score mess and a host of woes not easily fixed.
Miss Pennington has an identity. She is made in God’s image, is a daughter and an adult, and is a flesh and blood person. Her girlhood and lifetime training in a homeschool family have given her many benefits, but evidently not enough for her yet to see favorably her true state as a free — or nearly free — American.
Identity fraud through the “artificial person” she wishes to have created is not her only danger. With employment in the official economy come all sorts of other temptations. These take the forms of admissions at law created in the signing of federal tax forms proffered by a hiring manager or corporation’s director of human resources. Employment is an official activity subject to presumptions of taxation for purposes of social security and Fica taxes. Filling out federal forms creates a prima facie admission of liability that create a chain of trouble. With an avatar, the average American cooperates with the deception imposed as to the nature of the tax and surveillance system and the national government’s claims upon the property of the citizen by its enforcement of indirect taxes as if they were direct.
Overlooking the opportunities of freedom
Miss Pennington views her inabilities as shortcomings rather than as strengths. She views the unadornment of her natural person as nakedness rather than as protection. The 19-year-old woman perceives that her lack of encumberances are burdens when perhaps they are a means of levitation that others lack. She sees herself in an intense light and demands shade be provided; and so she will sit, the shadow she seeks is that of the lien upon the land of her inheritance. (“Lien, n. A legal right or interest that a creditor has in another’s property, lasting usu. until a debt or duty that it secures is satisfied.” Black’s Law Dictionary, eighth edition)
She has perhaps made too little use of her home educated background in a libertarian-oriented household filled with caring parents and siblings. She thinks that to be educated she has to go to a college, and that to be in college she has to have an SSN. She overlooks the prospect of the coming end of corporate, school-oriented education through state-approved agencies and colleges. She fails to see the deconstruction of universities by the growing and liberating digital anarchy. She overlooks the prospect that never having had a driver’s license she can exercise her right to travel by car on the public road as a matter of right, there being many Americans who face that peril and that exercise of a God-given right and who acquit themselves bravely. She forgets that she can make a living in the free market — also known as the digital economy, the underground economy, the gray market or the black market in labor. It is a vast sector in America set to grow even more as the federal empire’s debts and evils come knocking for payback, and the U.S. enters a period of senescence. If she avoids government and its forms, avoids making any false statement or any statement at all unless she knows it’s true, she escapes entanglements to which most people ignorantly agree.
She overlooks the digital revolution in which crypto-currencies and commercial dealings in local economy increasingly will abide alongside the official economy with its minders and official drudges. She overlooks the fact that taking part in the voting franchise comes with moral hazard: That voting is an expression of consent and permission in which the voter by his representative seeks to exercise power and compulsion upon others, who believes that society’s problems have solution in legal, political and coercive means.
The world of legal invisibility may have problems when seen from the conventions of American society. But she is heir to her parents’ estate, and her status of being free of the shadow of commercial government is part of wealth passed down to her. She finds the trouble of liberty odious, perhaps, for the time being. But she enters her adult life with remarkable advantages that other people, caught in the system, have fought vainly to attain.
Sources: Samantha Laine, “Alecia Pennington can’t prove she’s an American — or even exists. What would you do?” Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 12, 2015
The Pennington Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Help-Me-Prove-It/882732628415890
I find this article particularly interesting. There are a couple things that trouble me, having thought about issues this article makes light of for a long time. One is the issue of driving without a license. How do you handle such an issue when being pulled over or if you are involved in an accident?
And a slightly less important issue but still one of mobility, how do you obtain airline tickets and board an air plane when some form of ID is required? Even Amtrak requires ID and they do check from time to time. I’m not saying there aren’t solutions, but I haven’t heard a good discussion of what those solutions would be. Amtrak is a government corporation, so government ID may not be avoidable, though Amtrak seems to be not too picky about enforcing the policy, but airlines are run by private corporations (supposedly) and therefore should be allowed to institute their own policies regarding who is allowed to fly. Thanks!
I don’t expect Alecia Pennington to be a free motorist on the front line of the issue of the right to travel by car. A few people exercise this right in light of hostile general legal trends and negative opinions in state court about how driving is a privilege and cannot be exercised except by application for a driver’s license. But she’s 19, and probably not inclined to want to take up that conflict.
My suggestion is that she not overstate what she sees as her no-ID disability — that being her idea that she can’t do college, marry, travel or involve herself in commerce without a government ID. She overstates her problem about having no record of her birth; I believe that can be remedied with only slight difficulty.
The driving question is more irksome. Most people sooner or later have an encounter with an officer, and it would likely end in a citation to city court if one stands accused of driving without a license. Other nastiness could take place on the side of the street — one’s car could be impounded because the accused is seen as incompetent to drive it.
She would have to defend herself in court. She’s in Texas. We’re in Tennessee. My reading of Tennessee law strongly suggests having a DL is entirely voluntary, a matter of consent and application.
Some people are so determined not to yield to the surveillance state that they elect not to put themselves into situations where harassment or conflict ensue. Columnist Walter Williams refuses to fly on account of TSA surveillance to get aboard a jet. One enters voluntarily, and must accede to the government’s onerous demands if one chooses air travel.
I don’t suggest that Alecia would have it easy to try life as an adult without being visible to the state and to corporations. But she could raise defenses if those liberties mattered.
Traffic stops and car crashes become sticky because we immediately grant authority and voluntarily make legal concessions and admissions to the officer, who uses them against us. Driving without a license is a charge only if one has an antecedent obligation to have a license, and the officer will assume she does. Her duty would be to deflect these assumptions pursuant to laws in her state. Yes, a lot to ask of a young woman, 19.
If she were willing to listen to her father, she might get good counsel in this matter. But a family rift keeps the parents and their offspring alienated even on good points of law.
My case over Social Security numbers in Tennessee prompted the general assembly to rewrite a perfectly good law to make explicit that if a person never had an SSN he can affirm it by affidavit and get a license without one. That’s one hurdle less for people like Alecia in our state.