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May / June 2005

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A 20-year tribute

by Lee Ann Bisulca

This June, Home School Legal Defense Association celebrates a special anniversary: Christopher J. Klicka's 20th year working with the organization to defend and advance homeschool freedoms. Chris's career has spanned the growth of homeschooling from a small, under-the-radar community to an international movement with legal recognition. Throughout his 20 years as an attorney, spokesman, lobbyist, and homeschooling father, Chris has played a crucial role in that growth.

March 23, 1990: HSLDA attorney Chris Klicka and other home education advocates testify against regulations proposed by the North Dakota Board of Education.
"I've had a bird's-eye view of the homeschool movement since its beginning," comments Chris. Back when he was a newly married law student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he didn't imagine that his career would soon be devoted to helping parents educate their own children. But he did know that he wanted to serve God through constitutional law. So in the summer of 1984, after his second year in law school, Chris interned for the Rutherford Institute, where his four-month project was to write an analysis of all state laws applying to homeschooling. "I spent endless hours in the Georgetown Law Library poring over the compulsory attendance statutes in all 50 states, poring over all the attorney general opinions that touched on it, poring over all the cases, which were almost all losses," he remembers. Out of the 50 states, only five made legal provision for homeschooling.

As the project blossomed into a 300-page analysis, Chris began to see homeschooling's personal side. "I talked to every homeschooler who called the Rutherford Institute asking for legal advice," he says. "So I began to see and hear their religious convictions and the call on their life. I talked to my wife Tracy and said, 'This is what I want to do—teach our future children at home.'" He adds, "That's where I feel my calling has always been, ever since I was in law school: God wants me to help families so that they can teach their children His ways in their own homes."

As Chris finished up his law degree, he applied to work at several organizations where he knew he could be involved in First Amendment cases. One resume went to Concerned Women for America, whose executive director was a young lawyer named Michael Farris. Unbeknownst to Chris, Farris had co-founded Home School Legal Defense Association with J. Michael Smith two years before, in 1983. "I got a call back from Mike Farris and he said, 'This is too good to be true.'"

"I was glad to find someone who was so interested in homeschooling and seemed to know quite a bit about it, even though he didn't have kids," says Farris. Chris started working for HSLDA in June of 1985, and that August, he became HSLDA's first full-time attorney.

Whether on the phone with an aggressive social worker or on a live radio broadcast, Chris Klicka is always ready to speak up on behalf of homeschooling freedom.
"Those first 10 years were very intense," Chris recalls. "Those cases were really weighty, because if we lost them, people wouldn't be able to homeschool in the whole state. And many of the cases HSLDA worked on were not winners in the beginning." For instance, a few months before Chris began working for HSLDA, Michigan members Mark and Chris DeJonge were charged with criminal truancy for homeschooling without a certified teacher. It would take eight years for the case to work its way from the trial court through the appeal system to ultimate victory at the state supreme court level—a victory that earned an exemption from the certification requirement for all homeschoolers in the state.

"When we think of Chris, the first thing that comes to mind is the personal, spiritual impact he has had in our lives," say Dennis and Roxanne Smith, who cofounded Information Network for Christian Homes in 1984. Dennis now directs the Michigan organization. "Both he and Tracy have shown us time and again that when it comes to 'unbearable' challenges and hardships, we have a God who is greater than anything this world can throw our way. When we think of what Chris has done for the homeschoolers in Michigan, we think 'freedom.' . . . We now have one of, if not the best, homeschooling laws in the nation."

"I'd sometimes get pretty down when I saw these lower courts' decisions coming against us," Chris says, "but God was teaching me to trust Him. Little did I know that that would serve me well with all the legislation, because sometimes we had to come back year after year after year till finally we'd get the bill passed. Nor did I realize at the time how much it would help with my personal life when in 1994 I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, because that has been the biggest test of my life."

June 2004: Chris and Tracy Klicka enjoy a field trip to the Colorado Rockies with their seven homeschooled children.
As Chris, Tracy, and their children (they now have seven, ages 7-17) began to deal with the effects of his disease, the legal climate of homeschooling began to change, too. "The first 10 years, we were fighting for the right to exist," says Chris. "For the past 10, we've been fighting for the right to be less regulated."

While homeschooling freedoms in the United States became more secure, Chris became more involved in international homeschooling. Over the years, he has alerted U.S. homeschoolers to threats against home education in a number of countries, such as the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. (A flood of emails from HSLDA members literally shut down the Czech Parliament's server!) He has also helped parents in Canada, South Africa, Germany, and Japan launch their own legal defense organizations.

After a five-year stint as executive director of HSLDA's National Center for Home Education, Chris returned to HSLDA's legal department in 2000. "A lot of our work is just day-to-day convincing local school districts that they're wrong: writing letters, showing them that we're willing to stand up and fight for these families, educating the educators," says Chris. "My job is to keep these situations from going to the litigation department!" In 2004, he was honored with Calvert School's Homeschooling's Best Award for Lifetime Achievement because of his work in three areas: passing legislation in several states that requires social workers to be trained in the constitutional rights of parents, negotiating with the Department of Defense to obtain fair treatment for homeschooled recruits, and effecting changes in New York's college admission policies to end discrimination against homeschoolers.

January 26, 2005: Chris Klicka receives the Homeschooling's Best Lifetime Achievement Award from Jean C. Halle, President of Calvert School Education Services.
Over the past two decades, Chris has seen homeschooling become clearly legal in every state. Homeschool associations have formed across the country and HSLDA's membership has expanded from 1,200 to more than 80,000. "Homeschooling is not a passing fad, but a trend we'll see only grow as the years go by," he predicts. Still, he expresses concern over potential threats to the homeschool movement, such as virtual charter schools and apathy. "When we started working with Home School Legal Defense Association, we thought we would work ourselves out of business as we won the right to homeschool in the legislatures and courts," recalls Chris. "But we've realized gaining the right to homeschool was just the first step—now we have to preserve that right. If we let down our guard and no longer call the legislature in regards to bad legislation, or fail to stand with groups like HSLDA and the state homeschool organizations, the enemy of homeschool freedoms will prevail once again."

Jim Werner, Founder and Chairman of Circle Christian School, a homeschool organization in Florida, says, "Chris Klicka has had a profound impact on the homeschooling movement. He is the consummate advocate and ally, focused on the issues yet always demonstrating genuine concern and availability to others. He is a true servant and friend."

HSLDA President J. Michael Smith adds, "Chris demonstrates the Christian zeal, godly character, and commitment to homeschooling that we can all admire. As long as there are threats to homeschooling, Chris will be there, fighting for freedom."