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January 7, 2014

Judge Rebuilds “Berlin Wall” Just for Homeschoolers

Calls Homeschooling Abusive “Straitjacket”


Following 21 days in German state custody, the four Wunderlich children were reunited with their parents, Dirk and Petra, in September. But now a family court judge refuses to return legal custody of the children to the parents. Read more about the Wunderlich family.

Following a hearing on December 18, 2013, in Darmstadt, Germany, Family Court Judge Marcus Malkmus slammed the door on the Wunderlich family’s emigration hopes. Lawyers for Dirk, Petra, and their children had asked the judge to return legal custody to the parents because they have complied with court orders that the children go to school and because they wish to move to France where homeschooling is legal.

In August 2013 the four Wunderlich children were seized in a raid by 20 police officers and social workers simply because they were being homeschooled, an activity that is illegal in Germany. After an international outcry, the children were returned three weeks later on the condition that the parents send them to public school. Testing conducted on the children during their stay in a group home indicated that they were well adjusted, social, and academically proficient.

In Malkmus’s written order, (an unofficial English translation is avalaible here) he compared homeschooling to a straitjacket for children. While acknowledging that the Wunderlich children were well cared for and did not have educational deficiencies, he refused to return legal custody to the parents.

He said it was necessary to keep the Wunderlich children in German public schools to make sure that they were integrated into society. If they were allowed to be homeschooled in Germany or anywhere else, the consequences might be that “the children would grow up in a parallel society without having learned to be integrated or to have a dialogue with those who think differently and facing them in the sense of practicing tolerance.” Malkmus also wrote that homeschooling creates “concrete endangerment to the wellbeing of the child.”

“A Human Right”

Dirk Wunderlich told Home School Legal Defense Association that he was shocked by the harshness of the decision: “I had really hoped the judge would just let us leave Germany peacefully. We don’t isolate our children. They are well adjusted and doing well academically. We are happy for them to be connected to society. We just prefer to homeschool them because we believe it is better for them. It is so sad that my countrymen are not able to see that homeschooling should be allowed. It is legal in many other countries, and I believe is a human right.”

“Judge Malkmus has erected another Berlin Wall apparently designed to prevent all parents who might leave to homeschool from leaving Germany. This is no different than what happened in the former East Germany under communism and before that under the Third Reich,” he continued. “We need help from others around the world to help our country see this terrible violation of human rights.”

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said the Wunderlich case underscores why it is important for the United States Supreme Court to intervene in Romeike v. Holder, a case HSLDA filed on behalf of a German homeschooling family seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Germany is acting outside the boundaries of accepted international norms by imposing through force its vision for state control through education,” Farris said. “The Romeikes fled Germany in 2008 because of this very threat. The United States should not send them back to a country that will take their children away just because they homeschool.”

Bearing on Supreme Court Case

In a joint amicus brief filed December 19, 2013, regarding Romeike v. Holder, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the German homeschool organization Schuzh pointed out that Germany is violating international human rights standards and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case because of its bearing on human rights issues around the world. (Read the amicus brief online.)

The Supreme Court has ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to respond to HSLDA’s petition by January 21, 2014. The court will then decide whether to hear the case.

“The responsibility and freedom of parents to educate their children is among the most cherished and important of basic human rights,” said Farris. “This right is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in direct response to Germany’s nationalization of education during World War II. The fact that Germany continues to impose a totalitarian view in education for those who would homeschool is very troubling.”

“Judge Malkmus has effectively imprisoned the Wunderlichs in Germany.”

Michael Donnelly
HSLDA Director of International Affairs

HSLDA Director of International Affairs Michael Donnelly, who is coordinating HSLDA’s work on behalf of the Wunderlichs, said, “This is a disgraceful court decision. The German constitution and multiple international treaties guarantee the Wunderlichs’ right to leave their country. It’s one thing to disagree with homeschooling and enforce the law, but to prevent an otherwise loving and caring family from leaving because of homeschooling is a monumental violation of basic human rights. Judge Malkmus has effectively imprisoned the Wunderlichs in Germany over their intention to homeschool. It’s the kind of thing that you would expect from a communist bureaucrat in the former Soviet Union, not a modern German court of law.”

“HSLDA is working with the family’s lawyers to obtain their release and see that they are permitted to freely homeschool, if not in Germany, then elsewhere,” said Donnelly. “HSLDA calls on German leaders to take immediate action to make homeschooling legal and to stop persecuting parents who homeschool. We ask homeschoolers everywhere to keep this family in their thoughts and prayers.”

International Issue

After the Wunderlich children were seized in August 2013, HSLDA led an international outcry that helped secure the reunification of the children and their parents on September 19. German attorneys are working diligently to appeal Judge Malkmus’s new decision, but the case is complex and the appeals process takes time. In the interim, the Wunderlichs have committed to comply with the court’s orders. Judge Malkmus told Dirk and Petra in October that if they left the country without court approval, he would see that steps were taken to return them to Germany where they would prosecuted criminally and their family likely permanently separated.

The Wunderlichs need our help. You can help support their fight for freedom with a donation to the Homeschool Freedom Fund. As HSLDA works on the Wunderlichs’ behalf, we ask you to keep the family in your thoughts and prayers and be prepared to take further action when needed.

Additional Resources

Read more about the Wunderlich family.

Read more about the Romeike families.

Der Blaue Brief: “Captives of the Total School State”

Judge Malkmus’s written order in the original German