Blue background and red and white wavy stripes with white stars. Headshot of CEO David Harmer. Text on the image reads, "We the People of the United States, in Order to Form A More Perfect Union."

By David Harmer

Lots of people demand their rights as citizens. But how many accept the corresponding responsibilities?

Not nearly enough! That’s why this week (March 6-10), as we join in celebrating Civic Learning Week, Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge is highlighting one of our unique contributions to civic education: the Bill of Responsibilities. I’d like to tell you about it. First, the backstory.

Established by luminaries including General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Freedoms Foundation operates from a handsome property bordering Valley Forge National Historical Park, crucible of the American Revolution. Our 75-acre campus features boys’ and girls’ dormitories, classrooms, a dining hall, even a nondenominational chapel, enabling us to host multi-day residential programs right here where history happened.

During the school year, we bring students here from around the nation for four- to six-day, immersive, intensive, educational, leadership-development experiences focused on America’s founding ideals. Our mission is to inspire the rising generation with the history and continuing vitality of our charters of freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Participants aren’t merely informed, but transformed, emerging as worthy disciples of the American experiment.

During the summer, we do something similar for teachers, bringing them here for week-long, graduate-level, professional-development courses to help them teach, more vividly and memorably, American history, civics—and character development. 

Why character development? Because those who drafted our founding documents explained, in The Federalist and other writings, that mere parchment barriers weren’t sufficient to prevent tyranny or preserve liberty. They expected the American people to cultivate certain qualities of character that would equip them for self-government. Beyond the founding documents, it was those qualities of character, those civic virtues, that would ensure that the Republic would endure.

To help identify and cultivate those virtues, Freedoms Foundation convened a diverse panel of distinguished citizens to draft the Bill of Responsibilities—a respectful corollary to the Bill of Rights. 

“Freedom and responsibility are mutual and inseparable,” it begins. “We can ensure enjoyment of the one only by exercising the other.” The Bill of Responsibilities teaches young Americans:

1.     To take responsibility for their actions—and the consequences.

2.     To respect the rights and beliefs of others.

3.     To do their best to meet their own needs—and to help others meet their needs.

4.     To obey the law.

5.     To respect the property of others, private and public.

6.     To participate constructively in the nation’s political life.

7.     To help preserve freedom by assuming personal responsibility for its defense.

That brief summary doesn’t do it justice, so we encourage you to read it for yourself. An integral element of our civic-education programs for students and teachers alike, the Bill of Responsibilities prompts discussions that help participants understand the dangers of neglecting the duties of citizenship and, conversely, the opportunities and blessings afforded by embracing them. The second verse of America the Beautiful (“O Beautiful for Spacious Skies”) captures the imperative:

America! America! God mend thine every flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.

Much like the humility evident in those lines—the acknowledgement that we have flaws to be mended and selves to control—the civic virtues Freedoms Foundation cultivates may be out of fashion. But they are both timeless and timely—and urgently needed now.

So celebrate Civic Learning Week along with us. Follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). Share our daily civic education messages and activities. And if you find those messages and activities informative and engaging, keep right on participating. Sponsor a student (or better, several) to our Spirit of America youth leadership program. Encourage a teacher to apply for our summer seminars.

We’re honored to count you as an ally. Thanks for your support.

Donate Today

Supporting America’s first principles of freedom is essential to ensure future generations understand and cherish the blessings of liberty. With your donation, we will reach even more young people with the truth of America’s unique past, its promising future, and the liberty for which it stands. Help us prepare the next generation of leaders.