A Heart for Homeschooling: Christopher J. Klicka
It is with a mixture of sadness and joy that Home School Legal Defense Association reports the homegoing of our co-laborer Christopher J. Klicka. In this article, we remember and honor his life.
A longtime champion of homeschooling rights around the globe, HSLDA Senior Counsel and Director of State and International Relations Chris Klicka was called home by his Lord on October 12, 2009, at age 48, following a 15-year battle with multiple sclerosis. An attorney, spokesman, lobbyist, and homeschooling husband and father, Chris is survived by his wife, Tracy, and their seven children—Bethany Arnoldbik (21), Megan (18), Jesse (17), Susannah (15), Charity (14), Amy (14), and John (11)—along with Chris’s parents, Ardath and George Klicka.
Chris was born on April 2, 1961, in Wisconsin and went on to earn a BA from Grove City College in Pennsylvania in 1982 and a Juris Doctorate from O.W. Coburn School of Law, Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1985. He met Tracy in college and they married in 1984.
What Really Matters
The following quotes are excerpted from one of Chris’s final video interviews. It was conducted on May 12, 2009, by Dave Mercado of SoundView Services, Inc.
“He enables you to fulfill what He’s
called you to do. He’s called me to be a father
of seven and a husband, and work for the
homeschoolers and to share His gospel. Charles
Spurgeon once said that there will be no
crownbearers in heaven who weren’t
crossbearers on earth. I got the cross of MS.
Some people are going to have the cross
of cancer, some are going to have the cross
of losing a loved one, or some marriages will
. And there are little crosses—you’ve
got damage to your car, your finances aren’t
doing so well, you lost your job
It’s not a
question of whether you are going to suffer or not. It’s just a matter of how you deal with it
God is sovereign and we still must glorify Him
. Heaven’s going to be sweeter. I know it’s going to be sweeter. I can’t wait.”
Watch the entire video >>
“If I had to pick one word to describe Chris, it would be perseverance,” says HSLDA President J. Michael Smith. “He was the most determined person I ever met. Some people are more focused on goals and some are more focused on people, but Chris was focused on both. He was intensely committed to protecting homeschooling freedom, but he was also 100% dedicated to serving our members, to spending time with his family, and to raising his children.”
There’s no more fitting place to memorialize Chris’s work than in the Court Report. When Chris came to work for HSLDA in 1985 as its executive director and first full-time employee, he did everything—answered the phone, opened the mail, gave legal counsel, processed membership applications, filed records, and wrote and edited the newsletter.
“He was dedicated to communicating with and educating members,” says Smith. “Chris wrote the very first issues of HSLDA’s Home School Court Report newsletter.”
Although in those days the graphics were more limited and photos were harder to obtain, Chris filled the pages of the Court Report with stories of families courageously standing for homeschool freedom, with news of good and bad bills pending in the legislatures, and with in-depth explanations of educational issues and governmental principles.
As HSLDA grew and Chris was able to focus more on legal work, he often worked late into the night dictating replies to members, letters to aggressive school superintendents, and more articles for the Court Report. Chris continued to serve as editor of the Court Report through 1990.
From Constitutional Law to Homeschooling
Courtesy of the family
Chris Klicka, his wife Tracy, and their seven children.
The story of how Chris ended up at HSLDA is a demonstration of God’s providence. Two years into law school, Chris’s interest in serving the Lord through constitutional law landed him an internship with the Rutherford Institute in 1984, where he was assigned to analyze the homeschool laws of all 50 states. Four months of intense research grew into a 300-page document. The results looked rather bleak: only 5 out of the 50 states made legal provision for homeschooling. But, as homeschooling parents who called the Rutherford Institute for legal assistance shared their religious conviction and strong sense of calling, Chris became persuaded that this daring, barely legal educational option was the best form of education—it was the right choice. Even though he and his wife, Tracy, didn’t have children yet, they knew that their children would be homeschooled.
After finishing his law degree, Chris applied for work at several organizations, targeting those which would enable him to tackle First Amendment cases. Following an interview with Concerned Women for America’s then-executive director Michael Farris, Chris received a phone call that took him by surprise. It turned out that two years earlier, Mike Farris had co-founded Home School Legal Defense Association with J. Michael Smith. Finding that Chris’s research and experience at Rutherford Institute made an ideal fit for HSLDA, Mike Farris asked Chris to come work there.
Chris greets then Texas Governor George W. Bush at HSLDA’s 1999 Proclaim Liberty Rally.
“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,” Chris reminisced in a May/June 2005 Court Report article, “A 20-year tribute.”
In August 1985, Chris became HSLDA’s first full-time attorney. During the course of the 24 years he worked for HSLDA, Chris touched the lives of thousands of homeschooling families across the country. Whether their right to homeschool was threatened by prosecutors, social workers, or truant officers, Chris was ready to make a phone call, write a letter or email, provide counsel, or even represent the family in court.
His advocacy did not stop at the courtroom. He testified on behalf of homeschool freedom before numerous state legislatures and the United States Congress. He even helped homeschoolers in South Africa, Kenya, Germany, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Canada, and other foreign nations begin homeschooling and establish a strong legislative and legal defense.
A Persuasive Pen
Hired as HSLDA’s executive director in June 1985, Chris Klicka also served as editor of the Court Report through 1990.
With a single-hearted focus, Chris strove to convince Christian families that homeschooling was the best option for their children’s education. In fact, his best-known book, Home Schooling: The Right Choice makes such a strong case for this educational alternative that it has persuaded many parents to homeschool and convinced many grandparents that homeschooling was, after all, a great choice for their grandchildren. In addition to penning five books on homeschooling and several pamphlets on Christian living, Chris wrote numerous articles for the Home School Court Report, the Teaching Home, Practical Homeschooling, and many other periodicals. At the time of his death, Chris was working on two more books.
Chris used every medium he could to spread the good news about homeschooling. He appeared in television interviews, video documentaries, and youtube.com clips. Live radio interviews and call-in talk shows were a regular part of his workweek. He readily gave quotes to reporters for newspaper and magazine articles. He loved to answer questions and encourage homeschooling parents and leaders. In fact, he had a special email list of current and former state homeschool leaders to whom he would send news, prayer requests, and exhortations to stand firm in the midst of adversity. He was always looking for new outlets and opportunities—from email lists, he jumped to HSLDA webinars and even his own Facebook page.
Growth and Change
Always ready to advocate homeschooling, Chris used every avenue available, including radio, the internet and print.
Slowly, homeschooling became legal. It wasn’t easy. The first 10 years working for HSLDA were especially difficult. If a case was lost, it might outlaw homeschooling for every family in the state. And many cases were lost in the lower courts, then wound an agonizingly circuitous route through the appeals process.
One such case, involving Michigan HSLDA members Mark and Chris DeJonge, spanned eight years and resulted in a landmark decision in the state supreme court, which led to an exemption for homeschoolers from teacher certification requirements. Today, Michigan boasts one of the best homeschool laws in the nation.
Through these sometimes discouraging cases, Chris realized that God was teaching him trust and perseverance, qualities that he would need to help push through improved homeschool legislation in many states, year after year after year until the bill finally passed. Those qualities were also needed when Chris was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1994, which he termed “the biggest test of my life.” They were needed again when his wife Tracy nearly lost their twins, Charity and Amy, in 1995 due to pregnancy complications, and when Tracy experienced several life-threatening flare-ups of ulcerative colitis through the years. The Klickas are no strangers to challenges and suffering.
As Chris and his family faced the effects of MS, the legal climate of homeschooling transitioned from a battle for the right to exist to a struggle for the right to be less regulated. Homeschool freedoms in the United States had become more secure—it was clearly legal in every state. State homeschool associations had formed across the country, and HSLDA’s membership had expanded from 1,200 to more than 40,000. (HSLDA membership would more than double to 86,000 families by 2009.)
At this juncture in the mid 1990s, Chris began more actively working to expand homeschooling awareness and freedoms internationally. He helped needy families connect with curriculum providers, alerted U.S. homeschoolers to letter-writing campaigns on behalf of home education in many countries, and helped parents in Canada, South Africa, Germany, and Japan launch legal defense organizations.
On June 11, 1998, Chris testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families.
He did all of this while maintaining a full workload, primarily in HSLDA’s legal department, but with six years as the director of HSLDA’s National Center for Home Education (now the federal relations department). In the legal department, his goal was to keep everyday misunderstandings and conflicts from escalating to the level of litigation. At the National Center, he helped draft federal legislation, lobbied on Capitol Hill, and offered expert testimony before several congressional committees.
“No trip was too far for Chris. No legislative challenge was too big. No member’s concern was too small. Chris was always ready to leap into action on behalf of homeschoolers and their freedom,” says HSLDA Chairman Mike Farris.
“But what really got Chris fired up were social workers trying to gain unlawful entry to a home. He was relentless in his defense of homeschoolers’ 4th and 14th Amendment constitutional rights.”
In 2000, Chris returned to HSLDA’s legal department, this time as its director. HSLDA continued growing, and now he was supervising several other contact attorneys and four legal assistants in a busy schedule. Under his leadership, the staff responded to member requests, interfaced with government officials who were purposely or naively treading on homeschooling families’ freedom, worked with state homeschooling organizations to monitor and lobby on homeschooling bills in all 50 state legislatures, and spoke at state homeschooling conferences to educate homeschoolers on the law.
Chris provided then Minnesota Senator Rod Grams with a packet on homeschooling issues during HSLDA’s leaders summit in 1998.
Just improving and maintaining homeschooling’s legal status wasn’t enough for Chris, though. He knew there were still areas of American society where homeschooling was so misunderstood that it would hurt home educated students as they went on to compete in sports, seek employment, apply to colleges, request financial aid, or enter the military. Chris personally pursued face-to-face meetings with decision-making officials in each area, resulting in changed national policies that evened the playing field for all homeschooling students. He even pursued federal legislation requiring states to implement training for social workers in citizens’ 4th Amendment constitutional rights. And he maintained an ongoing campaign to press for Religious Freedom Amendments in every state to protect the right to homeschool on constitutional grounds.
Chris was never idle. When he took “vacation” time from work, it was usually to work on a new book while spending time with his family or travelling. He loved to garden and later, when he could no longer do it himself, to supervise his children as they learned the art and science of growing things.
Tbe Final Chapter
In August 2009, while on a writing sabbatical, Chris's multiple sclerosis worsened. One of the last things Chris did for HSLDA during this time was a webinar in which he spoke from his heart about why it is important to homeschool and to keep going despite the difficulties. In the video, it is evident that Chris’s illness was taking its toll, but we are so glad to have this final message to encourage homeschoolers going through hard times. (Watch it in the archives.)
Courtesy of the Klicka Family
REMEMBERING THE KLICKAS: Please lift up Chris’s wife, Tracy, his seven children, and his extended family as they mourn their loss.
Chris feared he would not be strong enough to attend HSLDA’s National Leaders Conference in Colorado Springs, September 23–26, but he rallied in early September and focused on his goal of attending what he knew might be his (and his family’s) last such event with HSLDA.
The rest of Chris’s story has been told and retold as during his last days, prayer requests and updates spread across blogs, forums, Facebook pages, and Twitter tweets around the world. Tens of thousands prayed and offered help in myriads of ways.
After Chris became unresponsive at the National Conference, he was taken to the hospital and remained there through the weekend. Based on input from the medical team, along with Chris’s own desire not to be artificially kept alive by machines, Chris and Tracy recognized the hard reality that it was time to transition to hospice care. Friends who lived in the area graciously opened their home to the Klicka family and set up a room for Chris with a beautiful view of the Colorado Rockies. Family members, friends, and the Klickas’ pastor gathered from around the country to spend precious last moments together.
No tribute to Chris would be complete without mentioning his deep love for his Lord and his earnest desire that everyone with whom he came in contact would also come to know that Lord. Wherever Chris went, he carried Gideon Bibles and tracts and gave them all away. Whenever he met someone new—at a homeschool conference, on an airplane, or in the back of an ambulance as he himself was being transported to the hospital, Chris would ask, “If you died tonight, why should God let you into heaven?” And he would make sure that his new acquaintance clearly understood that trust in Christ was the only assurance of peace with God.
Chris had that peace. He knew where he was going, and we know where he is now—free from pain and the ravages of multiple sclerosis, he is face-to-face with his beloved Shepherd. Having completed his earthly assignment, Chris has shed the confines of time and space and is running, singing, laughing, working, and worshipping his Savior and King. He’s probably also eagerly shaking hands with many people who are there because his life touched theirs on earth.
For more memories of Chris Klicka, see Chairman’s View and The Last Word on page 50, as well as our special online tribute page.