|| 20th ANNIVERSARY
ALONG THE WAY
The battle for the front door
by Zan Tyler
HSLDA's contact attorneys|
Christopher J. Klicka, Esq.Senior Counsel for HSLDA, Director of State & International Relations
Directs legal department and international outreach. Responsible for seven states and one territory, as well as HSLDA members in the U.S. military stationed abroad, and other U.S. nationals living overseas: Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin, and American Samoa.
Chris and his wife, Tracy, homeschool their seven children.
Dewitt T. Black, III, Esq.Senior Counsel for HSLDA
Responsible for 17 states and one territory: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, Montana, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Guam.
Dee and his wife, Ricci, have four children, all of whom have been taught at home.
Scott W. Somerville, Esq.
Responsible for 12 states: Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.
Scott and his wife, Marcia, have six children and have been homeschooling since 1986.
Scott A. Woodruff, Esq.
Responsible for 13 states, the District of Columbia, and one territory: Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington DC, and the Virgin Islands.
Scott and his wife, Jane, teach their three children at home.
For twenty years, Home School Legal Defense Association has had one simple focus: defending and protecting homeschooling families, regardless of the cost. This month, the Court Report focuses on the four men who serve as contact attorneys: Christopher (Chris) Klicka, Dewitt (Dee) Black, Scott Somerville, and Scott Woodruff. They have the responsibility of resolving legal difficulties for families in their respective states; and, in many instances, they also work alongside state leaders in the legislative arena. In an era when lawyers are the brunt of endless jokes and criticism, these men stand out as those with sterling character, unwavering convictions, and spiritual vision.
During the week of January 20-24, 2003, HSLDA President Mike Smith produced a series of programs for Home School Heartbeat entitled "Vocation: Instilling a Sense of God's Calling." At one point, Mike quotes Christian author Os Guiness as saying, "Thankfully," Christians know "the truth that God calls us to Himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is lived out as a response to His summons and in His service."
In His service. This phrase succinctly and powerfully describes the motivation behind these four men. These remarkably gifted attorneys have chosen to use their talents to serve Christ through serving parents who desire to teach their children at home. The results have been rather remarkable, considering the many Goliaths homeschooling parents have faced during the past two decades.
According to Chris, "We have never yet had a family whose homeschool had to be shut down or was shut down by the government. Never in the history of HSLDA. That's a record that is beyond simple lawyer skills; it is a testimony that God is protecting His people … against all odds."
THE PAST: THE PATH TO HSLDA
"When I was a student in law school," Christopher Klicka recalls, "God put a desire in my heart to defend Christian families, especially in the area of government's attempts to restrict religious freedom." This desire gave birth to a legal internship at the Rutherford Institute during the summer of 1984. While homeschooling was not even a blip on most people's radar screen, Chris completed a 300-page analysis of homeschooling laws in the 50 states.
Upon graduating from law school, Chris applied to a number of constitutional law firms, including Concerned Women for America, where Mike Farris, as then-General Counsel, was involved in many religious freedom battles. Mike, intrigued by Chris' knowledge of homeschooling laws, called Chris for an interview. In 1985 Chris, a newlywed with no children, became the first full-time attorney and employee of the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Chris reminisces about the early years:
In 1985, when I joined HSLDA, we had approximately 1500-2000 member families. My job was to protect those families when we had only about five states where it was clearly legal to homeschool. I remember getting up for work each day and wondering how this could be done because the odds were so greatly against us. Yet God had given me a real fire in my heart, and I saw amazing results as I participated in court cases and legislative efforts. We also began our practice of sending out alerts—in those days we used phone trees. We tried to work through local support groups; some of the state homeschooling organizations weren't even formed yet. And, little by little, God showed Himself strong on behalf of the homeschoolers.
I believe it's because homeschoolers weren't just homeschooling for homeschooling's sake, but for the glory and honor of God. If you honor Him, He'll honor you. I saw that in many of these David and Goliath situations—He gave the victory.
While practicing law on Hilton Head Island, SC, Dewitt Black and his wife Ricci attended a Gregg Harris Conference in Columbia in the spring of 1989. Mike Farris was a speaker at the conference. Dee gave Mike his business card, and told him if he needed any help in South Carolina to give him a call. The legal climate in South Carolina was becoming more and more hostile for homeschoolers: a number of cases were being filed against and on behalf of homeschooling families.
Mike Farris did call Dee and Dee began to serve as local counsel for HSLDA for some of the South Carolina cases. This continued until the fall of 1990, when Mike Smith and Mike Farris came to Columbia to try the Triple E1 case. During a conversation the first day of trial, Mike Smith and Mike Farris approached Dee about the possibility of working with HSLDA on a fulltime basis.
Ricci and I had been praying about leaving Hilton Head where we lived. We were interested in a more direct involvement in ministry, so we went to Virginia and interviewed with the two Mikes. Six weeks later we were living in Virginia. (This was the fall of 1990.) I felt like it was God's calling for me; both Ricci and I had a clear sense that this was God's will for us at that time.
Scott Somerville was a young homeschooling father with five children (in New Hampshire) who volunteered to help write the newsletter for his local support group. He soon found himself president of that group, and then was chosen as the president of Christian Educators of New Hampshire in 1988, an organization that was formed for the sole purpose of keeping the New Hampshire Department of Education from tripling the regulations on homeschoolers.
Scott spent seven months as a computer programmer and ordinary dad trying to stop a committee of 11 people from increasing the regulations on homeschoolers.
In the course of those seven months, I discovered what it is that lawyers actually do. And my wife said to me one day, 'You should be a lawyer.' That began a great adventure. I quit my job as a programmer for General Electric, moved my five children and my wife down to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and spent three years going through Harvard Law School. My sixth baby was born the day after my Tax exam, and I think I'm the only person who started Harvard Law School with five children and graduated with six.
When I got out of Harvard, I asked the attorneys at HSLDA for some recommendations for Christian lawyers around the country who might be interested in a person like me, and much to my amazement, was offered a job at HSLDA. I've been working there since 1992.
After receiving his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1980, Scott Woodruff practiced law in Missouri for 18 years, first with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and subsequently with Shelter Mutual Insurance Company.
I came to HSLDA in September of 1998. I had been a member for a couple of years and loved it; I loved getting the Court Report and reading about what "those guys" were doing. I loved the fact that there was an organization at a national level that was protecting homeschooling as a concept. That really excited me. This is now my third job as a lawyer and I enjoy this job more than all the others put together. It is because I get to help the most incredibly wonderful people in the world.
THE PRESENT: CURRENT RESPONSIBILITIES AT HSLDA
According to Scott (Somerville), HSLDA has two very busy seasons: "the fall when all the truant agents come out and the period from January to March or April when the legislatures are in session." Scott reiterates, "My favorite part of the job is not dealing with senators or judges, but it is helping individual homeschool families."
And, it seems, homeschooling families still need help. In spite of the fact that homeschooling is now legal in all 50 states, prejudices against homeschooling remain, and HSLDA resolves as many as 8,000 conflicts a year for their member families. When HSLDA members encounter problems with school officials or social workers, they should notify their state attorney immediately.
Dee offers this insight: "There are only a very small percentage of instances where we're not able to take care of the problem before it goes to court. In most cases when families are forced into court, they have not contacted us early enough to enable us to deal with the problem on their behalf. It's not just the parents' fault—often school officials do not allow us time to work out a resolution before they initiate court action."
Many of homeschooling's past battles resulted from the lack of state statutes and case law that specifically allowed for homeschooling. According to Chris,
Our battles now are against misapplications of the law, against authorities who are prejudiced, and against social workers who take anonymous tips. These anonymous tips are often from family members and people who don't like homeschoolers. They call a child-abuse hotline, often fabricating a story about a homeschooling family. Next thing you know a social worker is at the door demanding entry and demanding to interrogate each of the children separately. We work to prevent this from happening.
We call it "The Battle for the Front Door."
Scott (Woodruff) understands well the Battle for the Front Door and the turmoil that Christian parents face.
Romans 13:1 says, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which are established by God." But it goes on to say in verse 13:7, "Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; and honor to whom honor."
As Christians, on the one hand, we are commanded to obey the governing authorities. On the other hand, we're told to give to people what they are due. If an official comes to my door and asks for something that is not his due, I have the right, perhaps even the duty, to tell him "no." If a police officer comes to my door and wants to interview my child and does not have a court order, generally he is not entitled to access to my child. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees every citizen protection from unwarranted government intrusions into their home. Parents must understand that issue clearly. Because the social worker or police offers is not entitled to what he is asking, we can scripturally, with total confidence, tell him "no."
To understand what is due, most parents need legal advice, because what is due is almost always a legal issue. Much of what I do is to figure out precisely what is due. It is my job to tell the family, "This is due, but this is not due. I advise you to give what is due like the Scripture commands. But other than that, retain the integrity of your home, because the home should be the safest place a child knows—without being subject to the invasion of strangers. Parents have a duty to keep that home safe.
THE FUTURE: FOR HOME-SCHOOLING PARENTS & CHILDREN
HSLDA will continue steadfastly in its mission to help homeschooling parents. Scott (Somerville) says,
We have the great privilege of serving people who are serving God by serving their children, when they (the parents) desperately need help, counsel, and wisdom. I'm honored to know the law well enough to guide them in what practical steps they ought to take. I also have an opportunity to keep reminding them that ultimately it is God, not me as a lawyer, or even the legal system that is going to protect them. Time after time I have seen God protect and defend people who were seeking first the Kingdom of God.
In regard to our children, Dee has witnessed the fruit of homeschooling as he has observed the many homeschooled graduates who have worked at HSLDA in various capacities over the years.
These young people are amazing to me in their level of spiritual development, their commitment to God's ways, and their serious-mindedness about things in life . . . I see the next generation of homeschooling families being those who themselves have been homeschooled. I see godly generations to come being raised up to influence the world for Christ.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
1 In 1989, HSLDA filed Lawrence v. State Board of Education to challenge South Carolina's requirement that homeschooling parents without a college degree take the state's Educational Entrance Examination (EEE). The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of homeschool freedom on December 9, 1991.
About the author
Zan Tyler is the Home School Resource and Media Consultant for Broadman & Holman Publishers and the Editor of the Homeschool Channel for LifeWay's Web Network (www.lifeway.com/homeschool). She is the founder and past president of the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools. She and her husband Joe have three children and have homeschooled since 1984.