This weekend, the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a rapidly growing nonprofit that promotes parents’ rights, will speak at the 14th annual Western Conservative Summit, which kicks off in Denver, Colorado, today.
The event comes just days after the Southern Poverty Law Center called members of the group extremists in its annual report “The Year in Hate & Extremism.”
In response, co-founder Tiffany Justice said on Facebook Live: “If this is what makes you an extremist — standing up for freedom and liberty and fighting for your children to get a good education and asking questions when the institutions of our government like our public schools are failing to meet the needs of the people. ... I mean, is that really what extremism is in America today?”
“I think the thing we need to ask ourselves is why is it such a threat to so many different people in the United States — the Biden administration, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education — why are parents such a threat?”
The group’s message is resounding with many parents; its leaders note that two-thirds of Americans say that public education is on the wrong track. Moms for Liberty has more than 72,000 followers on Facebook, where they say, “We are just getting started.” And the group has chapters in most U.S. states, including Utah.
Who are the founders and what are their goals?
Who are the Moms for Liberty?
Moms for Liberty was founded in January 2021 by Justice and Tina Descovich, both former school board members who “witnessed how short-sighted and destructive policies directly hurt children and families,” according to the Moms for Liberty website. “Now they are using their first-hand knowledge and experience to unite parents who are ready to fight those that stand in the way of liberty.”
Calling themselves “joyful warriors” who “do not co-parent with the government,” the group says it’s a grassroots movement that doesn’t align with a political party.
“Moms for Liberty is dedicated to fighting for the survival of America by unifying, educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights at all levels of government,” the group’s mission statement says. Opposing “government overreach” is also a centerpiece of the Moms for Liberty movement.
Since its founding, the organization has mushroomed into 285 chapters spread across 45 states; its membership is currently more than 120,000 and growing, according to the group’s Twitter account.
Members come from a range of racial and religious backgrounds, according to Justice.
What do the Moms for Liberty do?
Founded at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moms for Liberty initially focused on mask mandates and vaccines, broadening to eventually include discussions about school curriculum and library books. The group opposes the teaching of critical race theory, and the promotion of gender and sexuality-related topics in the classroom.
Though the group has been accused of being behind efforts to pull books from library shelves, members say they simply want to ensure that their children are only exposed to age-appropriate content. “Curating a children’s library is not banning books,” Justice told the Deseret News.
Members of Moms for Liberty often attend school board meetings and encourage mothers to run for office themselves. In 2022, the group backed approximately 500 school board candidates nationwide, 275 of which were elected, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Her work with Moms for Liberty has taken Justice to Washington, D.C., where she testified earlier this year before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government. In the hearing, titled “Free Speech: The Biden Administration’s Chilling of Parents’ Fundamental Rights,” Justice relayed the story of a Moms for Liberty member who reportedly received a phone call from the Federal Bureau of Investigation after voicing her opinions at a school board meeting.
“One minute you’re making peanut butter and jelly and the next minute the FBI is calling you. You answer the phone and they want to talk to you about your comments at a school board meeting last week,” Justice said as she testified before the subcommittee. “What did this mom do wrong? She disagreed with her school board. That is not illegal in this country. Are we not allowed to have differing views?”
Justice argued that rather than attending to our country’s failing educational system, the federal government was busying itself with silencing parental rights activists. “The No. 1 indicator of student success is parental involvement,” she said. “Any action by the government that undermines that jeopardizes the very future of this nation.”
She also expressed concern that “Our children are being taught to distrust the sanctity of their own homes and to view the nation as broken and unjust.”
In addition to attending events like the Western Conservative Summit, Moms for Liberty also hosts an annual convention of its own. Though the organization does not officially endorse a political party or candidates, several prominent Republican politicians will speak at its upcoming summit, which will take place in Philadelphia from June 29 to July 2. Scheduled speakers include Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
The four-day event will also include training for those wishing to run for their local school board.
“We’re reclaiming school boards and school board seats from the left and the teachers’ unions,” Justice said. “And once liberty-minded individuals are elected into those seats, we are reforming public education.”
What is the parental rights movement?
Increasingly a centerpiece of the culture wars, the parents’ rights movement is seen by some as a thinly veiled attempt to “ban books, censor school curriculums and suppress politically undesirable forms of knowledge,” columnist Jamelle Bouie wrote for The New York Times.
Others, however, view the movement as necessary to safeguard constitutionally protected freedoms and protect America’s children from a “woke” ideology that has gone too far.
The parents’ rights movement has proven attractive to some members of groups that have not been historically aligned with the Republican Party, like Black Americans, Latinos and young women; some say the movement and Moms for Liberty have brought new voters to the Republican Party.
“I have been trying for a dozen years to get 20- and 30-year-old females involved with the Republican Party, and it was a heavy lift to get that demographic. But now Moms for Liberty has done it for me,” Christian Ziegler, state chairman of the Florida Republican Party, told The Washington Post.
Among politicians, DeSantis, in particular, has embraced parental rights. In March 2022, he signed Florida House Bill 1557, “Parental Rights in Education,” which “reinforces parents’ fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children,” according to a press release.
The Western Conservative Summit
Moms for Liberty co-founder Descovich is among speakers scheduled for the Saturday morning session, which goes from 10:30 to noon.
Hosted by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, the Western Conservative Summit bills itself as one of the largest annual conservative gatherings outside of Washington, D.C.
First held in 2010, the theme of this year’s gathering is “Western Strong,” a title intended to reflect the importance of the traditions and principles of both the American West and Western civilization. “At a time when Western Civilization is being denigrated by the left, we want to remind attendees that it is our strong Western roots that make America the free nation that it is today,” the event website said. Those who are unable to attend the conference in Denver, Colorado, can register to watch it online.
Speakers include former Arkansas Gov. and Republican presidential primary candidate Asa Hutchinson, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, and Kristen Waggoner, a constitutional lawyer with the Alliance for Defending Freedom who was lead counsel in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case.