Michael Farris, founder of Home School Legal Defense Association
Homeschoolers in Germany, where the activity now is illegal, need to develop a new strategy in their pursuit of parental rights over their children’s education, because continuing legal challenges won’t work, an expert says.
Michael P. Farris, cofounder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and a top expert in the field of homeschooling worldwide, said Germany right now is taking an “incredibly hard-line approach” against homeschooling.
In Germany in recent months homeschoolers have been fined the equivalent of thousands of dollars, had custody of their children taken away, had their homes threatened with seizure and in one case, that of Melissa Busekros, had a team of SWAT officers arrive on a doorstep with orders to seize her, “if necessary by force.”
In a recent letter to constituents, Farris said while the Busekros case has calmed down, there still remain many challenges for homeschoolers in Germany, both in and out of court.
“It seems as if a week doesn’t go by without another family being threatened with fines, imprisonment, or the loss of their children,” Farris said.
“Over the last seven years, HSLDA has chronicled through e-mail alerts the escalating persecution German homeschoolers face. Since the late 1990s, scores of these families have been involved in court cases. While there have been a few instances where families have been able to continue to homeschool after or while paying fines, or when the local authorities turn a blind eye, this is by far the exception,” he said.
“In most cases families are fined, in some cases thousands of dollars, or when threatened with the removal of their children by German Youth Welfare authoritites, have fled the country,” he continued. “Other families have been (and remain) separated for years – the fathers remaining in Germany to provide for their families and mothers and children living in another country where they are able to safely homeschool.”
And yes, the penalties have gone further. “Mothers and fathers have been also imprisoned, had their bank accounts confiscated, their wages garnished, or their businesses ruined by the actions of their local government,” he said.
The “now infamous” court case “Konrad v. Germany” in which the European Court of Human Rights essentially said that parental rights to raise their children must take second place to the government’s objections to homeschooling, “has clearly demonstrated that German homeschoolers have no hope of relief from their courts,” he said.
“To win,” Farris concluded, “a legislative solution is needed. And in order to convince a German legislative body to change the law in favor of homeschooling, public opinion in Germany will have to be changed.”
He said German officials are filled with fear that homeschooling will result in parallel societies, such as Islamic fundamentalism, that would create a danger, even though those in the United States understand it supports pluralism.
“In America, and other countries, research demonstrates that homeschooling does not isolate or create parallel societies but rather, it allows students to become highly engaged in society, enjoying a diverse and real-world educational experience, especially when compared to the institutional, uniform, and age-segregated public school system,” Farris said.
He said those ideas are foreign to German officials and citizens, and his organization is working to introduce them, even while supporting the German homeschoolers who are in the midst of battle now.
“This strategy will include engagement with academic and professional institutions that influence the opinions of judges, politicians, and government officials,” he said, by working to provide credible and authoritative research from German experts on the issues.
And it must include political pressure from the international community through public pronouncements, diplomacy, media reports and grass-roots activity, he said.
“First and foremost, we ask you to pray for German homeschooling families enduring persecution. … We ask you to pray that God would change the hearts of the German people and their elected and appointed officials so that homeschooling will be allowed in Germany.”
Melissa Busekros, after her return to her home. (Photo courtesy Klaus Guenther)
In the case involving Melissa Busekros, a German appeals court ordered legal custody of the teenager who was taken from her home by a police squad and detained in a psychiatric hospital for being homeschooled, be returned to her family because she no longer is in danger.
The lower court’s ruling had ordered police officers to take Melissa – then 15 – from her home, if necessary by force, and place her in a mental institution for a variety of evaluations. She was kept in custody from early February until April, when she turned 16 and under German law was subject to different laws.
At that point she simply walked away from the foster home where she had been required to stay and returned home, but she and her family had been living under the possibility that police would intervene again.
The appellate court’s decision said “observations” of Melissa over the last few months “show there is no danger to her well-being and she may now stay with her family,” according to Michael Donnelly, a lawyer working with the HSLDA.
Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, has commented on the issue on a blog, noting the government “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.”
Drautz said homeschool students’ test results may be as good as for those in school, but “school teaches not only knowledge but also social conduct, encourages dialogue among people of different beliefs and cultures, and helps students to become responsible citizens.”
The German government’s defense of its “social” teachings and mandatory public school attendance was clarified during an earlier dispute on which WND reported, when a German family wrote to officials objecting to police officers picking their child up at home and delivering him to a public school.
“The minister of education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling,” said a government letter in response. “… You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers. … In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement.”
The issue of German parents and their decision-making authority for their children’s education was covered in this once-enforced statement: “And this [government] will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.”
Adolf Hitler issue the dictate when his government, in one of its first actions when he came to power, took control of all educational institutions and issues.
The HSLDA is a nonprofit advocacy group defending and advancing the constitutional rights of parents to direct the education of their children. With more than 80,000 families who are members, it is the largest homeschool association in the world.
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