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The price of freedom

In the late 1970's, Nebraska made headlines with its hostility towards Christian education. One pastor took a stand for educational freedom; before Nebraska finished with Everett Sileven, he had been charged with and convicted of breaking 14 Nebraska laws related to operating a school without a license. He served 157 days in the Cass County jail. His wife was found guilty of contempt of court. His daughter had a warrant issued for her arrest, but fled the state. Seven other fathers were jailed for contempt of court in 1983 because they kept their children in Faith Christian School.

All this took place before the Home School Legal Defense Association was founded. HSLDA's current chairman of the board, Mike Farris, (then lead counsel for Concerned Women for America) helped to defend these families. When the courts refused to protect religious liberty, the Nebraska Legislature finally enacted a bill to permit Christian schools to operate without a license from the state. When the Nebraska Board of Education met to discuss regulations to implement the new law, then-Governor John Kerrey asked them to end this conflict. "It is important that we lay this thing to rest, and that we not continue to play an adversarial role with these Christian schools," he said. The board adopted Rule 13, a regulation to exempt church schools and homeschools from approval requirements.

It has been 19 years since Rule 13 was adopted. Many homeschoolers in Nebraska have complied with it, although a number have had real reservations in doing so. Rule 13 is better than going to jail, but it raises troubling questions about the state's control of education. The T family of Lincoln, Nebraska, was able to submit the Rule 13 paperwork for the 2001-2002 school year, but could not in good conscience file the same paperwork by the time 2002 rolled around. What they had been barely able to tolerate one year became too much for their consciences to bear the next.

HSLDA wrote a series of letters, asking the Nebraska Department of Education to accommodate this family's good faith objections to the specifics of Rule 13. Despite HSLDA's careful explanation of federal constitutional laws protecting religious liberty, the department refused to budge. Instead, the department gave the family an ultimatum to file the state's paperwork or be turned over to law enforcement. The T family refused to violate their conscience, so the department urged the Lincoln Public Schools to turn the matter over for prosecution.

Pastor Sileven took a stand for freedom in 1977. The T family has taken a similar stand today. Please pray for the T family as they stand their ground.

Scott W. Somerville