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April 4, 2014

Is Homeschooling a Window into the Soul of a Nation? What Does Romeike Really Mean?

Michael P. Donnelly
Director of International Relations

On March 4th, the Romeike family was granted an indefinite stay of deportation by the United States Department of Homeland Security, ending a long and drawn out legal battle over whether the family would be sent back to Germany to suffer harsh treatment meted out to homeschooling parents there.

The Romeikes fled Germany in 2008 after being subject to intimidation, threats and worse by local authorities over their decision to homeschool their children. In 2010, a federal immigration judge granted them asylum in the US. Judge Burman found that the Romeike family would likely be persecuted if they returned to Germany. He found that German authorities levy crushing fines, criminally prosecute, and remove children from parental custody. He found that this was persecution. However, the US Government appealed the ruling. In 2012 the Board of Immigration Appeals reversed Judge Burman’s grant of asylum and ordered the Romeike’s to leave the United States. The United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Board’s findings, and the United States Supreme Court declined to review the case.

But a central issue in the case remains unsettled. Is Germany’s treatment of homeschoolers persecution? Although our judiciary says no, the executive branch issued an indefinite stay of deportation—suggesting maybe yes. Unless the stay issued by the Department of Homeland Security—which is both discretionary and revocable—was given solely to silence the vocal homeschooling community, it indicates the government is unwilling at least in part to deport the Romeikes because of what they might face in Germany. (See the Sixth Circuit court’s defense of Germany’s harsh treatment as prosecution, not persecution here.)

Today, German authorities go even further.

For example, the Wunderlich children are forced to attend a public school. Their parents, bereft of legal custody, can't leave the country to pursue homeschooling in a neighboring country, such as France, where homeschooling is permitted. The German family court judge in the case, Judge Malkmus, is simply following orders or at least German precedent. Higher German courts have said homeschooling may be banned to suppress the development of “parallel societies” or because homeschooling “endangers children’s welfare.”

So—is it persecution to treat homeschoolers like this or not?


Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly is HSLDA’s director of international relations. Read more >>

Some, like our judiciary, say that Germany isn’t persecuting homeschooling families by treating them harshly. It’s just a matter of enforcing the law. In a BBC report, Professor David Abraham, described by the BBC as “an expert on immigration and citizenship law at the University of Miami School of Law” stated, “What they can’t call persecution is the obligation to attend school with other children. That’s an important social value that the German legislature has adopted.” Professor Abraham goes says that, “Germany is a democratic country and it chooses to make attendance in schools mandatory.”

Others see it differently.

Senior Family Research Council Fellow Robert Morrison points out the historical context of the German behavior in a National Review Online article.

“Germany’s failure to recognize the rights of parents to ‘train up their children in the way they should go’ is a major reason why Germany succumbed first to Bismarck’s statism in the 1860s, then to Kaiser Wilhelm II’s militarism in the first decade of the 20th century, and finally, and most tragically, to the Hitler Nazi nightmare in the 1930s and ’40s.”

Could this be a reason that the world included article 26(3) in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that “parents have the prior right to choose how children are educated”? Hint: The answer is yes.

HSLDA’s Chairman Michael Farris has penned a compelling analysis that explains the bigger picture. He points out why we should be concerned about what the United States’ handling of the Romeike case means for homeschooling and religious freedom. Read his recent article here.

Farris sums it up this way.

“There you have it. The German courts have said it is damaging for children to learn only the religious and moral values of their parents. The German courts say that they wish to counteract the development of religious and philosophical minorities. The German courts say it is appropriate to use force to remove children. The German appellate courts tell the lower courts that they have the immediate task to remove all homeschooled children from their parents. And our Justice Department says it is impossible to find in these facts anything other than an open, pluralistic democratic society teaching children to be tolerant.”

Baylor University Professor Perry Glanzer criticizes the idea that public education should serve such a narrow and political focus. He criticizes modern public education as "democratic education," which has an excessive focus on creating politically aware or economically productive citizenry. This, he says, misses the greater point of education. Instead education is a process by which human beings learn about themselves and their environment and decide, for themselves, what their role and relationship with society will be. People are not solely political or economic beings; an education system that focuses excessively on either politics or economics misses the important contribution that education makes towards pure human flourishing. Home education is needed to counterbalance this state-driven, narrowly focused education system in the name of pluralism and traditional liberalism. See Glanzer's article entitled "Saving Democratic Education from Itself: Why We Need Homeschooling" (Peabody Journal of Education Volume 88, Issue 3, 2013).

John Warwick Montgomery describes homeschooling as a window into the soul of a nation. Calling homeschooling a “litmus test” for liberal democracies he observes that political systems lack the “required flexibility” when homeschooling is denied. See Montgomery’s book Homeschooling in America and Europe: A Litmus Test of Democracy.

The Romeikes are happy that they aren’t being sent back to Germany. We all are.

But they never would have had to leave in the first place if it weren’t for Germany’s repressive policies. In fact, they wouldn’t have. It wasn’t easy for them to leave a beautiful home, life, family and friends for the sake of their convictions. It was an inspiring step of faith. One that the thousands of other families in Germany who want to homeschool shouldn’t have to take to enjoy what ought to be a protected human right in a leading western democracy.

I hope and pray that the Romeike’s story will help German policymakers see that their iron-fisted control of education and repression of home education is fundamentally inconsistent with the democracy they are trying to preserve. For the rest of us, Germany’s policy is a sobering reminder of how some view the state-parent-child relationship and the extent to which they are willing to control their citizens.

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