The plenary room at the 2023 Moms for Liberty National Summit in Philadelphia. (Shirley Hershey Showalter)

Moms for Liberty is making me more patriotic. Just not in the way they intend.

I attended the M4L National Summit in Philadelphia on June 30.

When vocalist Mary Millben, who preceded Donald Trump on the stage, began to sing “America the Beautiful,” I found tears coming to my eyes.

The image of “amber waves of grain” has always moved me. I grew up a farm girl in Lancaster County, Pa. In retirement I have returned home to my agrarian roots. I drive past oceans of golden wheat almost daily. I’m profoundly grateful for the beauty of this land and for the farmers who carry on my family tradition.

Like the speakers at the national summit declare, I love my country. I love my small town of Lititz and the good-hearted folks who live here. Historically, most of them vote Republican. I love our nation’s founding documents, especially the Constitution. 

I now also love my local public school, its teachers, and its leadership with a passion I would never have imagined — until Moms for Liberty came along. The group is eroding one of the most important principles of American democracy:

The separation of church and state.

Come to think of it, I only heard the idea of separation of church and state mentioned one time at the conference. And that once, it was dismissed as a “bogus argument.”

What I heard loudly and clearly at the summit was a call to theocracy in the guise of democracy — asserting conservative Christian values as normative for all. God’s name came up often, his blessing invoked, and his guidance proclaimed. For people who decry ideology and accuse teachers of indoctrination, the speakers seemed blind to their own.

School choice, including vouchers to transfer public funds to private institutions, came up frequently. This redirection of tax dollars was widely, wildly applauded.

I suspect that many Moms for Liberty care more about increasing subsidized school choice than about helping to improve local public schools.

Swag from the 2023 Moms for Liberty National Summit in Philadelphia. (Shirley Hershey Showalter)

At one session, attendees were encouraged to read a 2018 book by Kurt Schlichter called “Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite to Reclaim Our Democracy.” I have begun reading this book and find it very enlightening. The seminar leader said Moms for Liberty has activated “pissed off moms and dads.” These so-called “normals” have better things to do than get political, but when they are riled up, they become “mama bears” with pitbull tenacity. The targets of their rage? Elite academics, politicians, and the media.

Normals far outnumber the oft-referenced “elite,” and they deserve respect. Anyone who calls them “deplorables” clinging to “guns and religion,” or who foolishly tells them teachers are more in charge of their kids than they are, is going to go down fast. 

I think, however, that there are a lot of ~other~ normals in this country, far more than the Moms claim as their own. 

These other folks are not interested in a theocracy, with conservative Christians dictating curriculum for all students of various backgrounds or restricting their access to library books. They also don’t want chaos at school board meetings (with people shouting divisive rhetoric, making excessive “right to know” demands, and badmouthing their alma mater). As one of these “other normals,” I have decided to speak up.  

In fact, a group of us here in Lititz are getting together regularly out of concern for our schools, students, and teachers who are under attack from Moms for Liberty. We call ourselves Grandmas for Love. Get it?

I was in my usual place in church this Sunday after Friday at the summit. I’m grateful to live in a country where my rights as a Christian are protected and where the rights of all other Christians, people of other faiths, and people of no faith, are protected also.

In a democracy, not a theocracy, what could be more normal?


Shirley Hershey Showalter is a mom and a grandma. She is also a lifelong educator, an author, and former president of Goshen College in Indiana.