Editor's note: This is a special report for The Blaze by Jessica Zummo of The Revered Review
Simple people living on “God’s Earth.” Simple people who just want the allowance and freedom’s their forefathers granted them. Simple people…who are simply being held hostage on their own land.
The landowners of Houston County, Minnesota, a small county in the southeast corner of the state, decided, over five years ago, that they were going to reclaim their property rights and their “pursuit of happiness.”
Today, they are still fighting for those very freedoms.
On the surface, the issue lies with an “updated Land Use Plan.” With additional amendments being proposed for adoption, many of the affected landowners started getting involved in their local government.
In 2006, they started attending the public hearings and County Commissioner’s meetings. “From the beginning, we experienced being ignored and belittled,” says a troubled landowner.
“We were told to sit down, to be quiet, and not to speak about our Constitution.”
At the same time, according to local resident Conrad Curren, the local newspapers started “taking sides” and “publishing things that were not true.”
Needing to take matters into their own hands, a small group of landowners decided that it was time to educate others, and themselves. With easy-to-read handouts of the Declaration of Independence, quotes of the Founding Fathers, and parts of the Constitution, the group spent their evenings going from door to door, talking to their fellow citizens and asking for support.
County Turns Up the Heat
In 2007, Houston County sued a young, newly married couple due to the new land use plan. The couple, who had just legally bought the home, was given four options to “settle the situation.” The couple was required to move their house fifty feet, purchase an additional 32 acres of land, sell their property to a neighbor, or tear their house down. Dealing with “impossible options,” the couple chose to appeal the ruling in the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court refused to hear their case, thus leading them to sell their property. The couple is now renting the very house they once owned.
Though a battle was lost, the war had only begun: The war for freedom.
“However, it has made the county afraid, causing some to just go along with the system,” said a member of the Concerned Landowner group.
According to County records, there are more than 50 similar situations in the area, situations that the landowners feel are “denied rights guaranteed by the Constitution.”
A Simple Solution?
“We the Landowners Concerned About Property Rights in Houston County do hereby call for the resignation of all the members of the Planning Board and Commissioners who do not agree with the will of ‘We the People…”
Joining forces and voices, the landowners of the county rallied together. In a grassroots effort, a group called Landowners Concerned About Property Rights was born. Together, they drafted a resolution, which was signed by 700 of the County’s landowners.
The resolution, urging the County Commissioners to recognize the protections for private property and property use reads as follows:
“We the people, property owners of Houston County, desiring to reclaim our liberties and property rights as guaranteed and specified in the Constitution of the United States and the State of Minnesota, do hereby determine that the Houston County Board of Commissioners pass this resolution stating all interpretations and applications of the zoning ordinances shall acknowledge and promote the supremacy of private property. We the People retain the right to own, maintain and develop property as we see fit, free of restrictive zoning regulations. This right being guaranteed to all in their “pursuit of happiness.” These liberties extend until it can be proven that their execution brings harm to or infringes upon the rights of others. Let justice be served.
Seeking liberty and justice for all, let all zoning regulations be examined to see if they accomplish this intent. This document to be affirmed and recorded in full.”
This signed petition and resolution was presented to the Commissioners in 2007. The Commissioners never responded.
“The Letters Came in Droves”
Letters to the Editors hit the local newspapers as fast as people could write them. The landowners of Houston County, exercising their freedom of speech, used the local media as a venue for their voices, as they “wondered why no one was listening or even cared.”
Titled “Arrogance or Ignorance?” ,“County is Wrong!”, “Agenda 21,” the letters filled the newspapers- until one newspaper pulled the breaks.
A new headliner popped up from the editor of the Spring Grove Herald. The article, “New Policies for our Opinion Page,” explained that the paper will “stop publishing letters to the editor on the land rights issue.”
Feeling that the letters were “repeating themselves,” the editor, Heather M. Gray, went on to say, however, that they “will accept a limited amount of letters from any individuals who support the county’s current zoning ordinances.”
In a nutshell, those who opposed were not allowed to submit letters, however those that were in support, had the allowance to do so.
In a phone interview, Gray stated she, “did not feel that she was taking away the residents’ right to Freedom of Speech because they had said everything they needed to say.”
“They were just trying to sway people to think like them, but were saying the same things over and over again,” said Gray, who ironically, was also the Mayor of the town at that time.
Gray, when asked if she, in fact, felt it was acceptable to take away a venue for the people’s voices, stated, “Yes, for that period of time. We had published plenty of points of views. In my opinion, they had said enough.”
The landowners, who felt there was certainly more to say, were denied the publishing of letters from that point on. However, the Herald did allow them to take out “ad space” for their statements. The group was spending approximately $500 a week, just to say what Gray thought, “they said enough of.”
Today, the “freeze” is lifted, however, the residents are held to a 500-word limit, with the editor having the right to “edit as she feels fit.”
What is really going on here?
Why do the Commissioners and Planning Board members of Houston County, Minnesota feel as if these strict, nearly impossible demands and rules are acceptable? Why is the local media turning their heads away from the truth?
The answer lies respectably in the Constitution, or lack thereof.
“At some meetings, we are told not to talk about the Constitution and the protection it guarantees to US citizens,” claims the landowners spearheading this revolution.
On March 13, 2008, at a planning board meeting, this group continued to bring up the Constitution, freedom, and rights. “The board members would bristle in anger,” says the group.
Finally, Curren went to the podium and asked the commissioners if they “knew what they swore to uphold when they took their oath of office.” No one answered. After repeating the question several times, the board replied the same- with silence.
Soon after, a conversation was had between some landowners, Curren, and one of the commissioners.
“I know we’ve sworn to uphold the Constitution but it is an old document; times have changed,” stated Commissioner Tom Bjerke.
Surrounded by many landowners as witnesses, Bjerke continued on to say, “Quit bringing up the Constitution.”
Bjerke did not return any of the repeated calls in regards to this statement or situation.
The Houston County property owners have endorsed new litigation to get government back in the hands of “We the People.” The Complaint, which was filed in the Minnesota Federal Court, asserts that the Houston County Commissioners, Houston County Zoning Administrator Bob Scanlan, the Board of Adjustment, as well as the Planning Commission and Environmental Service Director Richard Frank are violating the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the landowners in the county.
The case, which was filed October 3, 2011, will be seen in court on December 16, to decide on “ a schedule for the case.”
“We are not a litigious group,” said Robert Ideker, a Houston County landowner. “We have tried to work with the county, we have attended dozens of meetings and hearings, we have written dozens of letters, but no one will listen,” said Ideker.
In 2010, the group also filed litigation in the state court, challenging the land use plan and zoning ordinance, but during research and discovery in the case, many landowners learned that “the issues between the county and its citizens were significantly deeper than state level.”
“Those issues go to the heart of the Guarantees in the US Constitution, and are protected by the Federal Civil Rights Act.”
The landowners are now dismissing the state court case and have endorsed the Federal Case instead.
County landowner, Tom Groesschner said, “It is disappointing that it has come to federal court litigation but there is nowhere else to turn. It seems impossible, but we must get the government back into the hands of ‘We the People.”
The Landowners Concerned About Property Rights say, “ We are doing this because of our faith. We believe that the earth is the Lord’s and that men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. We all need to care for our families, run our farms and businesses, and better our lives as we so desire, being stewards of what God has given us.”