“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
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
Be My Guest?
By Helen Krieble
When you have guests in your home, do you immediately add them to your family health plan, give them keys to drive your car, and put them in your will? The answer is “of course not,” because we all understand the difference between guests and family. Current issues involving illegal immigration, American citizenship, and even the dilemma of Syrian refugees, should be considered in the same light.
America has always been open to people around the world seeking freedom and the opportunity to build a better life. That’s why we have legal immigration, permanent residency, and ultimately citizenship for several million new Americans each year. We have also been open to foreigners who only seek work in the U.S., to earn money they can scarcely dream about in much of the world. That’s why we have work visas, and several thousand temporary workers who use money earned in this country to capitalize better lives for themselves and their families back home. In addition, Americans have often been willing to accept refugees fleeing genocide, slavery, and religious or political persecution abroad. Whether we are discussing temporary workers, permanent immigrants, or refugees from Syria – all part of the current campaign debates – we should remain vigilant in protecting the value of American citizenship. It is easy to understand why that matters for people seeking to become naturalized citizens of the United States. But to the extent that refugees may stay permanently, as most have done historically, they are likely to show up eventually in the citizenship line, too.
Here’s why that matters. America is not just a place, but an idea – the idea that ordinary people can govern themselves, rather than be subject to kings or dictators. Legally becoming an American citizen is a significant accomplishment requiring a complex process. An immigrant must live in the U.S. for five years,speak English, learn about our history and government, be of good character and most important, renounce all other allegiances and promise loyalty to the United States and its Constitution – including a promise to defend the country if called upon. Citizenship is a very serious responsibility. Do we know that all the refugees the President wants to resettle in the U.S. are prepared to accept those responsibilities? He claims it is “un-American” not to admit these refugees, but is it un-American to allow people to come here who have no interest in supporting or defending our cherished founding principles?
Our nation’s founders realized a fundamental truth – democracy only works if people understand it. America only works if citizens understand its history and the important ideals upon which it is built. They must know that e pluribus unum, our national motto, means our strength comes not from diversity, but from unity – from our shared commitment to a form of government based on the responsible individual and on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is what makes our country exceptional and our people one. Only people who understand and explicitly agree to those principles should become American citizens.
Much of the debate about allowing refugees from dangerous places like Syria centers on whether we can be sure they are not future terrorists, certainly a legitimate concern. But there should be even more to the discussion, and so far no politician has asked the central question about the commitment of people we must assume are likely future American citizens. Is there any evidence that these people share our fundamental principles? Or will we eventually be offering citizenship – full voting privileges – to people merely because they are physically present in the U.S?
Citizenship should never be granted, or accepted, merely because someone happens to be here, no matter how they arrived. It should be conveyed carefully to people who understand its true meaning, and accept it with a hand over the heart, a lump in the throat, and a commitment to defend our unique American system.
This is the lens through which Americans should view all political issues – the lens of liberty. If we look through that lens, we can easily see that immigration to the U.S. cannot solve all the world’s difficult problems. That reality does not require that we sacrifice our compassion, or our commitment to be a beacon of freedom for the world. It does mean that before we make decisions on issues that could change the course of our nation’s history, we should carefully consider the two primary responsibilities of all citizens: to defend our freedom against all threats, and to pass it along to the next generation enhanced, and not diminished.
Helen Krieble is founder and president of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, a noted authority on immigration policy and American citizenship.
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.