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November 20, 2009

Prosecutor to Homeschoolers: No Compromise—You’re Going to Jail!

Juergen and Rosemary Dudek of Archfeldt, Germany, were sentenced to 90 days in prison in July 2008 because they homeschool their children. Their sentence was overturned by an appeals court because of a legal error, and a new trial was ordered. Their new trial began November 16. German news reports indicate the judge appears disposed to seek a compromise. But prosecutor Herwig Mueller has vowed to appeal any sentence that does not include jail time for these parents, who have been in the spotlight for years because of their insistence on homeschooling. This was the same prosecutor who appealed the lower court sentence of only a fine, saying to the family, “You don’t have to worry about the fine because I will send you to jail.”

Armin Eckermann, president of the homeschool organization, Schuzh, was present at the trial. He told HSLDA the judge was seeking a compromise.

“This judge said that he thought a jail sentence was too harsh for the Dudek family under this situation,” said Eckermann. “But the prosecutor took a hard line.”

The new trial was continued to next week after more than seven hours of testimony. This included an outburst by Mr. Mueller when Mr. Dudek asked the local school officials if they knew the current laws that criminalize homeschoolers were based on laws from 1938. Mr. Mueller loudly protested: “All those Nazi laws have been suspended, and this one is democratic, and you’ve got to accept it, and that’s it.”

Mr. Dudek disagrees.

“The ‘schuhlpflicht’—the laws that require school attendance—are on the books in the German states,” he explained, “and have been traced back to the ‘Reichsculpflicht Gesetz’ [federal compulsory attendance laws] which was passed in 1938. Except for the removal of references to the Nazi party, these laws are identical or substantially the same as the laws passed by Hitler’s government, criminalizing parents who keep their children home for school.”

The Dudeks feel that homeschooling their children is the right thing to do and are determined resist what they consider unjust laws barring them from home education.

“The judge gave me an opportunity to discuss my reasons for homeschooling, for which I am grateful,” said Mr. Dudek. “But he told us that the constitutional court has already ruled on the issue of whether homeschooling is allowed. However, our lawyers were able to show evidence that the state had not honored their commitment not to prosecute us while our application to become a private school was pending.”

The judge suggested that the original fine could be reimposed, but prosecutor Mueller was adamant. “If a fine is the result of this trial, another appeal from the sentence will be made,” he is reported to have said.

Nevertheless, the Dudeks felt that the judge was being fair.

“He was very interested in this new piece of evidence, that was not in his file, about our private school application,” Mr. Dudek said. “This is why he continued the trial—he wants to hear more evidence from the previous prosecutor, who offered to suspend prosecution while we sought approval as a private school. Mr. Schop, the former prosecutor, is scheduled to testify next week. He was a very decent man, and we hope his testimony will help our case.”

The Dudeks appreciate the many people who have supported them with encouragement and prayer.

“God has given us the strength to see us through this,” said Mr. Dudek. “We were grateful, and gave thanks at the end that there was still more to come with another day of testimony. We really feel like this is a case of David and Goliath. The state says—‘Oh, you homeschoolers you talk about God and faith—but there is no one there who is going to see it through. The constitutional court has already decided all of that.’ But we have to obey our God. Now, it is our turn—it is hard and uncertain, but we know we can not disappoint the Lord and all those who are praying for us. So we will keep on.”

Other German homeschoolers see evidence of state officials trying to “stamp them out.” The Neubronners of Bremen had sued the city school authorities for the right to homeschool. After being denied they took their case to court. The Federal Administrative Court in Germany refused to overturn a lower court’s decision that held “[t]he general public has a justified interest in counteracting not only religiously or philosophically oriented parallel societies, but also certain educationally oriented groups whose obvious intention is to undermine the general obligation to attend school…and to cut themselves off from society.”

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly takes issue with the German court’s characterization of homeschooling as a “parallel society.”

“Homeschoolers are definitely a distinct social group but are not a ‘parallel society’ the way the German courts are trying to use the term,” Donnelly said. “The irony of German court decisions is their position that the state must teach ‘tolerance for diversity’ by forcing children into public schools and stamping out a diverse form of education recognized in all other Western democracies as a legitimate educational approach. Pluralism is supposed to stand for distinctive groups living peacefuly together.”

The Dangel family in Bavaria was recently told that if they do not comply with the demands of the local school that fines as high as 50,000 euros ($75,000) are allowed. The letter they received from the school authorities politely noted that “[w]e also point out that in case the fines cannot be paid, your imprisonment to enforce the law is permissible.”

The HSLDA-sponsored case for political asylum of Uwe Romeike and his family will be heard in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 16. Donnelly notes the importance of this case under the circumstances.

“We believe that the Romeikes qualify for asylum. By granting asylum on the basis homeschooling, we hope Germany gets the message that we have serious concerns about their treatment of these people whose only ‘crime’ is “homeschooling.”

 More Information

Attorney Mike Donnelly will be tweeting about the Romeike trial @mchlpdnnlly.