“The Responsibilities of Citizenship” Helen Krieble op-ed, Washington Times, 10/29/15
“We’re failing American students by failing to teach them properly” Roger L. Beckett on understanding the Bill of Rights, CTPost.com, 12/15
“Government Accountability Starts with Local Action” Austin Yack, National Revioew, 1/24/17
“Have You Read Your New Owner’s Manual Yet?” Lawrence W. Reed, Foundation for Economic Education
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity writes, and WashingtonTimes.com publishes, these inspirational stories about everyday American citizens and their work to advance freedom.
All honor the the First Amendment: How a conservative activist was targeted and fought back
By Johnny Kampis
August 28, 2016
Fighting a bureaucratic battle: A librarian wins a dogged quest for public records
By Arthur Kane
July 26, 2016
Unsung heroes: Meet the ‘cookie ladies’
By M.D. Kittle
June 14, 2016
Overhauling the system: How a Mississippi activist keeps the heavy hand of government at bay
By Steve Wilson
May 12, 2016
Tilting at wind farms: An advocate rails against forced green energy
By Johnny Kampis
March 24, 2016
Helen Krieble op-ed, Washington Times, 10/29/15, the responsibilities of citizenship… click here
Helen Krieble excerpts from her speech at State Policy Network’s Annual Conference, Grand Rapids, Michigan, September 29, 2015, American Exceptionalism and the Duty of Citizenship…
“I would like to ask each of you to think for a moment about whether you believe America is exceptional and if so why… Our own President thinks America is not exceptional, and I have heard others say we are only exceptional because we are rich, or free, or have opportunity for success – things many Americans believe are slipping away. But that is not it.
“America is exceptional because our founders set up a framework for a government unique in the history of the world. This government was based on the concept that free responsible citizens could govern themselves, and therefore government should be empowered to do only those things that individuals could not do, such as provide for the national defense. Individual citizens held the sovereign power and the government was accountable to us. Each of us was responsible to protect our freedom. But there lies the danger.
“Alex de Tocqueville, a Nineteenth Century observer of the American experiment in self-government, wrote in 1835:
“’I think that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed…The supreme power extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform through which the most original minds and most energetic characters cannot penetrate to rise above the crowd. It compresses, enervates, extinguishes and stupefies a people till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.’
“The United States may not have come to that point yet, but we are on the cusp. That danger must inspire free, responsible citizens, representatives of “We the People,” to hold government accountable for overreach and tyranny in our communities. We must all take up the challenge of preserving our country’s principles.
“The founders knew that individual citizens, educated on the principles of self-government, would always be the greatest watchdogs for freedom.
“When America’s forefathers created the framework for our government, it was absolutely unique in the history of the world. It is this framework which makes America exceptional. Their words are more powerful than any paraphrase.
“’We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.’
“What this means is that we the citizens are the sovereign power in the United States, and the government is accountable to us, not the other way around. Our form of government, designed to protect our rights, has been allowed to become an ever-more powerful and despotic entity. Instead of holding the government accountable for its trespasses, most citizens do not know our founding documents or what they mean, as our education system has failed us. They have no idea what their responsibilities are as citizens. Of those that do, most shrug their shoulders and think, ‘I am only one person; what can I do?’
“We must remind citizens that they are the governed whose consent is required, that they are the keepers of their own freedom, and that it is their responsibility to pass that along to the next generation, not rely on the government. I often remind people that freedom doesn’t start in the White House – it starts in your house.
“Our exceptional form of government is an endangered species. If we do not stand up for the founding principles and re-assert the duty of citizenship, it could become extinct. It doesn’t have to be that way – dedicated citizens saved our national symbol, the bald eagle, from extinction, and we can save the American experiment, too.
“Americans who think one person can’t make a difference against the power of government should remember that the Declaration of Independence was created by only 56 people – 3 or 4 from each of 13 states. As Margaret Mead famously said,
‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’”
Here’s a simple three-part quiz: What’s Bill of Rights Day, when is it observed, and why was it created?
The answers: Bill of Rights Day commemorates the day in 1791 when the first 10 amendments became a part of the U.S. Constitution. As a matter of law, it is “observed” — casually at best, in most cases — on Dec. 15 of each year.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in signing the proclamation in 1941 creating the day, said, “It is fitting that the anniversary of its adoption should be remembered by the Nation which … has enjoyed the immeasurable privileges which that charter guaranteed: the privileges of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the free right to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”
These “privileges,” as FDR called them, are essential to the American way of life, but the current generation, as we are seeing on college campuses from coast to coast, doesn’t seem to understand or appreciate the Bill of Rights.
This should come as little surprise since today’s high school students, who in a few short years will take their place on those same college campuses, also don’t understand U.S. government and history. The Bill of Rights? Who cares?
The woeful inadequacy of our secondary schools was clearly in evidence this spring when our “nation’s report card” released the most recent test scores in history and civics. It wasn’t pretty.
Of the nearly 29,000 eighth grade students tested last year as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18 percent were deemed “proficient” or better in history, and only 23 percent in civics, or government.
Eighty percent of these students, for example, were unable to identify an historical controversy that involved any of the rights identified in the First Amendment (with the amendment spelled out in its entirety).
The problem is not just the valleys in the test scores but also the lack of peaks. Only 1 percent of students performed at the “advanced” level on the history exam and 2 percent on the civics exam.
Twelfth graders weren’t tested in 2014. But the last time they were tested, in 2010, their test scores were little better.
If U.S. high school students don’t understand the meaning and importance of free speech, freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly and other such constitutionally guaranteed “privileges,” how can we expect them to affirm and defend them as college students and adults?
Many people are quick to blame teachers for the shortcomings of America’s schools. I don’t buy that.
America’s 125,000 social studies teachers should not be made into scapegoats. In the 18 years I’ve been with the Ashbrook Center, some 8,000 teachers from across the country have participated in our educational programs. So I’ve had ample opportunity to interact with many teachers and know from first-hand experience they’re not the problem.
The problem is the way teachers are trained. Teachers spend too much time learning how to teach and not enough time learning what to teach.
Without a major change in how teachers are taught, America will continue down the same path, raising generation after generation of students who do not understand what it means to be an American, who equate freedom of speech with “selfies,” who believe freedom of religion requires purging religion from the public square, who think our Founding Fathers — denigrated in popular culture as dead old white men — are irrelevant.
Teaching government and history involves more than just stringing together an agreed-upon chronology of significant dates and events and connecting them with names. To successfully teach U.S. history and government, so students understand and appreciate the principles that define our American character, teachers need to rely less on textbooks and more on the writings and thinking of those who shaped our country.
A good place to start would be to have every student read the Bill of Rights for Bill of Rights Day. Discuss the text and how it applies to our everyday lives.
That’s how students learn.
Two concerned citizens helped clean up Illinois’s government and started a movement. The country could use more like them. In 2010, emergency worker Kirk Allen responded to a call that inspired him to hold government officials accountable: An eleven-day-old baby had stopped breathing, and it was apparent that the 911 dispatcher had failed to provide medical instructions to the infant’s guardian. When Allen questioned the county director of dispatchers, he was assured that all dispatchers were certified, and that this had been an isolated incident.
He suspected the director was lying, and filed a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed that uncertified dispatchers had been present in Kansas Township, Illinois, for years. “I figured that if they were going to lie to me about that, then what else are they going to lie about?” Allen recalls. It turns out that the 911 office was lying to the public about a lot. After more FOIA requests, Allen uncovered illegal spending in addition to the uncertified dispatchers.
The experience inspired Allen to co-found the Edgar County Watchdogs along with fellow Edgar County resident John Kraft, who was also frustrated with government officials. Since the small-town Illinoisans founded their group, they have forced out 185 public officials in the state, all of whom resigned or chose not to seek reelection. More impressive still, the pair has accomplished all of this without any funding, through the use of FOIA requests, pro se litigation, and comments at public government meetings.
Due to their exemplary achievements, Allen and Kraft won the State Policy Network’s 2016 Unsung Hero Award, a cash prize of $25,000 that is sponsored by the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation. The award is part of the foundation’s citizenship program, “Lens of Liberty,” which encourages citizens to defend their rights and freedom.
Helen Krieble, president of the foundation, tells National Review that she was excited by the more than 30 nominations they received for the award. “The time is right,” she says, because “a Trump presidency has empowered people to hold government accountable.”
Krieble was most impressed with Allen and Kraft, whose project is particularly ambitious; throughout 2016 Edgar County Watchdogs has expanded dramatically, going first statewide and then national. Thus far, the group has trained 500 people; eventually, the two men hope their group will gain footholds in every state.
Edgar County Watchdogs is different from other good-governance organizations, which so often position themselves near state and federal legislatures. Allen and Kraft live in rural southern Illinois, over two hours from the Illinois capital, but both were angered by the lack of transparency among public officials and sought change. And while other such groups write articles, file a few FOIA requests, and move on to the next project, the Edgar County Watchdogs have a different formula: “Write about it and stick around until it gets fixed,” Kraft says. There are currently seven ongoing federal investigations that began as a result of their work.
‘If it makes you less free, you must do something about it.’ — Helen Krieble
In 2016, the pair’s website received 1.5 million hits, and their presence online has proven key to their success. By rallying the public to hold officials accountable, Kraft and Allen prompted four bills in the Illinois state legislature, all of which have become law. One bill granted county boards the power to remove members of Emergency Telephone System boards, as a result of Allen’s original crusade. “They have brought so many towns back to sensible, honest, approaches to ‘We the people,’” Krieble says.
Next year, Krieble hopes to dole out the $25,000 Unsung Hero Award in as many states as possible. The next Unsung Hero might not expel nearly 200 politicians from public office, but he or she must be committed to Krieble’s motto: “If it makes you less free, you must do something about it.” As Kraft and Allen have shown, regular citizens have the power to preserve liberty in a time when government continues to expand and impose overbearing regulations on its citizenry — providing that they see fit to try.
— Austin Yack is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.
When you buy a new car, you get an indispensable document called an Owner’s Manual. Nobody ever throws the manual away while he owns the car. It’s far more important than the slip of paper you get with a new flashlight that tells you where to put the batteries; you could figure that out on your own. A car has a maze of electronic circuitry; lots of buttons, dials and periodic maintenance requirements; and numerous moving parts both visible and hidden. Many things could go wrong if you don’t get things right.
Citizenship in a free republic is similar. Historically, it’s a scarce and valuable commodity. The freedom it conveys is much sought after but most people in history never achieved it and most of those currently living never will. Some who have it will lose it through assault or neglect. If and when you’re blessed to possess it, you will discover that it won’t run on its own. You must take charge. Maintenance, after all, requires an active maintainer. So it is that citizenship in a free republic requires an Owner’s Manual, and now for Americans at least, activist and philanthropist Helen Krieble has given us one.
Helen Krieble, formerly of Colorado and now a resident again of her home state of Connecticut, is president of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation. She’s a lifelong promoter and benefactor of freedom-related causes from regulation to immigration. Her late father, Robert Krieble, co-founder of the Loctite Corporation and former vice chairman of the Heritage Foundation, was known for his role in supporting freedom movements within the old Soviet Empire. Helen has tangled with intrusive governments herself right in her own backyard, battling regulators in Colorado whose nonsense forced her to close and sell her beloved Colorado Horse Park, an international equestrian and events center. She knows that freedom is never automatic or guaranteed from one generation to the next. She also knows that defending it begins at the most local level, the individual.
Helen is the prime mover behind many effective projects over the years, including the impressive Leadership Program of the Rockies. Her latest is the Lens of Liberty Citizenship Initiative, “a series of projects and programs to educate Americans on what it means to be a United States citizen, and on the responsibilities that come with citizenship.” It’s nothing like the nondescript mush you hear from groups that purposefully steer clear of any principled message—you know, the ones that go no deeper than tell you to vote (for anybody, so long as you vote), write your congressman, tour the capitol building and attend school board meetings. Everything Helen’s organization produces is aimed at getting Americans to see all issues through the “lens of liberty” and then equipping them to act on behalf of their vanishing freedoms.
The 50-page Your American Citizenship Owner’s Manual is one of the Lens of Liberty’s publications. It includes a “Parts List” and sections on “The Privileges of Ownership,” “Teaching Other Drivers,” “Maintenance Responsibilities,” “Operating the Controls,” “Roadside Emergencies” and even one on “Recalling Defective Parts.” It’s included in the free “Freedom Kit” you can request here.
Citizenship in a free republic, in Helen Krieble’s view, requires that we understand and appreciate these principles: equality before the law, unalienable individual rights, personal responsibility, the rule of law, free enterprise and private property, among others. Moreover, we must put our time and talents to work for them. We must speak truth to power and challenge unconstitutional or unwarranted assaults on our freedoms whether they come from the distant federal government or from the local zoning board. “Every citizen,” says Helen, “must hold government accountable for preserving our freedom, not taking it, and our home towns are great places to start.”
At FEE, we educate people (young ones especially) in pretty much the same ideals that Helen’s new effort does, so we are especially pleased to partner with the Lens of Liberty Citizenship Initiative. When I am asked, as I frequently am, “What can I do now that I’m sold on liberty?” I urge principled people to start a Bastiat Society chapter, sponsor students to a FEE seminar, get involved in media or politics or any number of other activities where their talents are best deployed. Now to that list I proudly add Helen Krieble’s Lens of Liberty! You can start by learning more about the organization and by ordering your Freedom Kit today.
America is more than just a place—it is an ideal and a set of principles. In America, government exists for and with the consent of the people—a radical concept in the beginning that the founders knew would require informed and responsible citizens. American citizens who enjoy the privileges of a free society must play a role in keeping the nation’s ideals of freedom on course – Helen Krieble, founder of the Lens of Liberty Citizenship Initiative.
Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Atlanta, Georgia.