In a decision bound to send a shock wave through the European Union, a federal immigration judge today granted political asylum in the United States to a German family whose members feared persecution if returned to their home country because of their decision to homeschool.
“We can’t expect every country to follow our Constitution,” said the opinion by Judge Lawrence O. Burman. “The world might be a better place if it did.
“However, the rights being violated here are basic human rights that no country has a right to violate,” he said.
The decision in the Memphis, Tenn., hearing grants permission to Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their five children to remain in the U.S., according to the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, which has been working on the family’s case.
“This decision finally recognizes that German homeschoolers are a specific social group that is being persecuted by a Western democracy,” said Mike Donnelly, staff attorney and director of international relations for HSLDA.
“It is embarrassing for Germany since a Western nation should uphold basic human rights, which include allowing parents to raise and educate their own children. This judge understood the case perfectly and he called Germany out. We hope this decision will cause Germany to stop persecuting homeschoolers,” he said.
HSLDA said the persecution of homeschoolers in Germany has been intensifying over the past several years.
WND has reported on German homeschoolers who have been fined the equivalent of thousands of dollars, have been threatened with jail and have even watched their children be confined to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with “school phobia.”
WND reported several years ago about the day police knocked on the door of the Romeikes and forcibly escorted their children to public school. Then WND reported again later when the family fled Germany, with the help of the Home School Legal Defense Association, and settled in the U.S.
The family members are living in Tennessee after they funded their flight from persecution partly by selling the grand pianos that belonged to Uwe Romeike, a music teacher.
The parents wanted to provide their children’s education because of content in modern German textbooks that violates the family’s religious beliefs. The family said the objectionable material includes explicit lessons on sex, the promotion of the occult and witchcraft and an effort to teach children to disrespect authority figures.
HSLDA officials estimate there are some 400 homeschool families in Germany. Virtually all of them are either forced into hiding or facing court actions.
Donnelly noted it was the first time ever America has granted political asylum to Christian homeschoolers fleeing German persecution.
Germany effectively has made homeschooling illegal because of laws dating back to the pre-World War II move as Hitler rose to power and tried to make raising and training children a responsibility of the government.
Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, previously wrote on the issue in a blog, explaining the German government “has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion.”
As WND reported, the German government believes schooling is critical to socialization, as evident in its response to another set of parents who objected to police officers picking up their child 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. “… 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.”
Political asylum, HSLDA explained, is available to people already in the U.S. who fear persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. HSLDA contended homeschoolers in Germany fit that description.
Lutz Gorgens, German consul general for the southeast U.S., has defended his nation’s public education requirements.
“For reasons deeply rooted in history and our belief that only schools properly can ensure the desired level of excellent education, we (Germany) go a little bit beyond that path which other countries have chosen,” Gorgens said.
The Romeike family, from Bissinggen, Germany, fled to the U.S. in 2008.
“Homeschoolers are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress… This family has a well founded fear of persecution … therefore they are eligible for asylum … and the court will grant asylum,” Burman ordered.
His ruling said the scariest thing about the case was the motivation of the government.
Rather than being concerned about the welfare of the children, government officials sought to stamp out divergent views. While Germany is a democratic country and a U.S. ally, the judge wrote, its policy of persecuting homeschoolers is “repellent to everything we believe as Americans.”
The HSLDA said the Romeikes expressed relief when they heard the decision.
“We are so grateful to the judge for his ruling,” Uwe Romeike told the HSLDA. “We know many people, especially other German homeschoolers, have been praying for us. Their prayers and ours have been answered. We greatly appreciate the freedom to homeschool we now have in America and will be building our new life here.”
Donnelly explained that the family’s flight came at a time when the two highest courts in Germany had ruled it is acceptable for the government to “stamp out” homeschoolers.
That reasoning, however, is flawed, he said. “The fact is that homeschoolers are not a parallel society. Valid research shows that homeschoolers excel academically and socially. German courts are simply ignoring the truth that exists all over the world where homeschooling is practiced. They need to look beyond their own borders.”
The HSLDA has documented that in 2003 the highest administrative court in Germany ruled in the Konrad case it was allowable for parents who travel, such as circus performers, to homeschool children. But homeschooling was not allowed for reasons of conscience.
The nation’s highest criminal court said in the 2006 Paul-Plette case that the government could take custody of children whose parents wanted to homeschool for reasons of conscience.
“Germany’s treatment of homeschooling families is worthy of condemnation from the international community,” Donnelly said. “I am proud that a United States immigration judge recognized the truth of what is happening in Germany and has rendered this favorable decision for the Romeike family.”
In another case in which the HSLDA has been involved, German father Juergen Dudek was sentenced to 90 days in jail for homeschooling, a penalty later reduced to a $300 fine.
“In our re-hearing the judge issued a decision reducing our sentence from jail to a fine but was totally dismissive of our reasons for wanting to homeschool,” he told the HSLDA.
Mike Smith President of HSLDA applauded the Burman decision.
“It’s recognition that the German state is persecuting homeschoolers. We are pleased to have been able to support this courageous family and we hope and pray that this decision will have a decisive effect on German policy makers who should change their laws to recognize a parent’s right to educate their own children,” he said.
In 2008, about the time the Romeikes were fleeing to America, WND reported on a homeschooling father and mother who fled Germany for Iran in pursuit of homeschooling freedom.
“As a family with a gifted and talented child, we fled Germany … with two suitcases and with the last of our money being spent on our flight to Iran,” a letter from the Mahjoubi Assil family to “supporting friends” said.
The family includes the father, Khosrow Mahjoubi Assil, the mother, Lydia Keller-Mahjoubi Assil, and the son, Marian Mahjoubi Assil. The letter was written by the mother on behalf of the family.
“As things stand now, Germany is unworthy of membership in the European Community, or to speak on Human Rights in the international arena. The shadows of the Third Reich and the ideology of Adolf Hitler – if not worse – still drift over Germany,” the letter said.