The Washington Times
February 6, 2004

Washington Times Op-ed – Rising for freedom here and abroad

by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

President Bush's second inaugural address was a clarion call for freedom. He said, "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: the moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right."

The president went on to say, "There is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty."

U.S. history is studded with examples of people seeking freedom. Whether through a struggle over civil rights or the inward migration of people fleeing tyranny, the United States has shown itself to be a country that takes human rights and human liberty seriously and will strive over time to expand freedom. Mr. Bush has crystallized this uniquely American view.

A less-well-known struggle for freedom came in 1983 in Nebraska. Seven families defied the state's compulsory-attendance law and kept their children from public school, instead sending them to a Christian school that wasn't licensed by the state. Nebraska authorities promptly threw the fathers in jail. The only "crime" was that these families dared to educate their children outside the public school system. The fathers were freed after a lengthy legal process and three months in jail.

Similar negative attitudes toward home-school parents persisted across almost all 50 states in 1983. However, because of the dedication of many home-school pioneers who demonstrated the academic success of home-schooling and argued that parents had a fundamental right to raise the children entrusted to them, laws across the country slowly changed to recognize a parent's fundamental right to home-school.

American home-schoolers largely have been freed from the overt oppression they experienced at the hands of the government, but burdens remain that are waiting to be lifted in the 21st century.

Unfortunately, in most foreign countries, home-schoolers are not experiencing the blessings of liberty. Even some countries recognized as Western democracies have taken steps to oppress home-schoolers.

The latest example comes from Germany. In Paderborn County, seven German Christian families wish to remove their children from the government school system and give them a Christian education at home. The government schools in Germany are forcing these children to accept doctrines that fundamentally conflict with the basic tenets of their religion.

Shouldn't these families have the freedom to educate their own children? The answer from the German government is "no." A letter from the German Embassy could not be clearer. It reads, in part, "The public has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different world views and in integrating minorities into the population as a whole."

The German government says it won't tolerate families who want to live by their religious tenets in peace or who espouse a Christian world view. According to the German government, the only route for Christian home-school families is to be forcibly integrated into the majority population. Minority rights are not being respected.

Moreover, this statement is uncomfortably close to the attitudes of some of the world's worst dictators. In response to the past actions of the German government, some German home-schoolers have fled the country. Others have chosen to stay.

There is great cost in standing up for freedom and liberty. Americans have been willing to pay the price for freedom, and American home-schoolers have felt the sting of state officials driven to control and oppress. Because American home-schoolers recently have won their fight for freedom, many have been willing to help other home-school families around the globe.

The Czech Republic removed restrictions on home-schooling in 2002 after receiving letters and calls from American home-schoolers. The story repeated in Hungary and Romania in 2003.

We know freedom comes at a price and believe that America, with God's blessing, is the best hope for freedom and liberty in the world today.

As Mr. Bush said, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

American home-schoolers echo this statement and stand for liberty with home-school families around the world.

Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at 540-338-5600, or send e-mail to media@hslda.org.