A young dark-haired student, Chris Klicka, sat in my U.S. Constitutional History class at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania around 1980. He was an excellent student with a particularly keen interest in questions about religious liberty and how that liberty might be protected. What I did not know at the time was that he would become the untiring legal defender of fathers and mothers across this nation, many of them Christians, who wanted to school their children at home. His death is an immeasurable loss to that alternative schooling movement which has grown wider and deeper than he ever expected.
Chris Klicka studied law after his Grove City College years at O.W. Coburn School of Law in Oklahoma and was hired in 1985 as the first executive director of an organization that had been formed by another tenacious fighter for educational and religious freedom, Mr. Michael Farris. His new position was with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). The organization charged a reasonable annual fee to parents who were home schooling. The pooled fees were used to provide a legal defense fund for those who located in states in which laws and courts were hostile to the efforts of parents whose only "transgression" was that they had chosen to home-educate their children.
Basically, the compulsory attendance laws in most states were a product of an earlier era in which state legislatures had attempted to prevent children from working in factories and on farms by compelling them to get an education. Unfortunately, the courts and state departments of education had interpreted that requirement to mean that the education had to be provided by a conventional day school, public or private. In the 1970s and 1980s, the traditional school choices offered to parents had become less attractive and some began to look for alternatives. However, the idea of home schooling in the eyes of public school principals, superintendents, social workers and most state court judges was still foreign and frankly somewhat threatening. Their response was to prosecute parents, who dared to provide education another way, under the compulsory attendance laws.
In the early 1980s, Pennsylvania was called by HSLDA one of the "worst states" in the country for home schoolers. Many of the threatened moms and dads in Western Pennsylvania were clients of mine. Consequently, though we had not planned it, Chris Klicka and I had the "pleasure" of working together with Mike Farris on a number of cases here on behalf of HSLDA families, where school districts, through their superintendents, sought to criminally prosecute parents who were home schooling.
By the end of the 1980s, the climate changed due, in no small measure, to the perseverance and tenacity of Chris Klicka and HSLDA. Today, the acceptance of home schooling is well established nationwide. That is a tribute to the personal courage and legal acumen of that dark-haired constitutional student-Chris Klicka-who saw an injustice and sought, by the grace of God, to right it.
All this, I add, he accomplished while fighting an individual battle with Multiple Sclerosis. In these last years that disease sapped his physical strength and challenged his endurance. Nevertheless, his indomitable spirit, which was clearly Christ working through him, made him a warrior for freedom to the end. His gentle demeanor, disarming smile, and courageous heart were combined in a winsome way with his unyielding stance for scriptural principles. He died with the gratifying knowledge that parents across the land could instruct their children without fearing the heavy hand of state intervention. Now he rests peacefully in the bosom of the Lord he served so well.
– Dr. John A. Sparks is Dean of the Calderwood School of Arts & Letters, Grove City College (Grove City, PA), where he teaches U.S. Constitutional History and Business Law. Dr. Sparks is a Fellow for Educational Policy at the Grove City College Center for Vision & Values. Dr. Sparks is a member of the State Bar of Pennsylvania.