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A judge in Germany has ordered a couple to turn over custody of their four children to the state because their homeschooling practices fail to meet the government’s demand for “integration.”

The word on the ruling comes from the Home School Legal Defense Association, which advocates worldwide for parental rights to homeschool their own children.

Judge Markus Malkmus in the German district court in Darmstadt ordered the four children of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich transferred to the state’s “child protective agency,” called the Jugendamt.

“This points out the need for a legislative solution in Germany for homeschooling,” said Michael Donnelly, the director of international relations for HSLDA. “Homeschooling is a legitimate form of education – Germany’s oppressing of people who do it violates their obligation to protect their citizen’s most basic human rights.”

Dirk Wunderlich said he received a letter from the Jugendamt in which the agency explained it doesn’t “wish to enforce [the] court’s decision by doing terrible things such as taking the children away from us.”

But he has little doubt that, ultimately, the state’s goal is to take custody of the children.

Wunderlich said the Jugendamt “told me that the children must go to school.”

“We are very saddened by the way our country treats us,” he said. “Our nerves are black and short, and we are very tired by the pressure.

“I don’t understand my own country. What are we doing wrong? We are just doing what should be allowed to anyone.”

Germany has a long history of persecuting homeschoolers, dating back to the era of Adolf Hitler, who claimed children for the state.

In 1937, Hitler said: “The youth of today is ever the people of tomorrow. For this reason we have set before ourselves the task of inoculating our youth with the spirit of this community of the people at a very early age, at an age when human beings are still unperverted and therefore unspoiled. This Reich stands, and it is building itself up for the future, upon its youth. And this new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.”

Just a few years ago, a government spokesman, Wolfgang Drautz, emphasized the importance of the socialization imposed on children through the schools.

His statement followed a response from the German government to another family that objected to police picking up their child 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.”

HSLDA pointed out that Malkmus simply was following precedent in Germany. In the Konrad and Paul Plett cases, the judiciary determined that homeschooling damages children and is an abuse of parental authority.

HSLDA reported: “The district court ruled that the general public has an interest in counteracting the development of parallel societies and that religious or ethnic minorities must be ‘integrated’ through schools. The judge also stated that the academic competency of the children was irrelevant because it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that children are socialized in state-approved public or private schools.”

The home school advocates said it’s not the first conflict the Wunderlichs have experienced over their homeschooling. The children were snatched by French social workers in 2009 but were returned a short time later.

“When she returned our children, the French judge told us: ‘You can homeschool here, that is your good right,’” Dirk Wunderlich said.

Wunderlich, a gardener, moves around seeking work to support his family, which also has lived in Norway and Hungary.

The need for work drove them to return to their home in Hessen, Germany, HSLDA said.

“But neighbors turned us in after just a few months. I requested to meet with the school to get them to permit us to homeschool but they rejected our request for a meeting,” he said.

HSLDA’s Donnelly said the issue has become critical, since the transfer of custodial rights means the parents now cannot leave Germany with their children.

Donnelly said Germany’s laws deter thousands of its citizens from home education.

“There are thousands of German families who would homeschool if they could without risking the custody of their children. Hundreds do today but face the constant threat of persecution. It is unacceptable that a country like Germany would treat parents like this. State legislators in Germany need to act in the face of this crisis. Germany has a leadership role in the world, and its behavior in this area does not measure up to its otherwise fine reputation. In the area of educational freedom Germany is grossly derelict and oppressive,” he said.

HSLDA previously announced that a homeschool conference will be held in Germany in November to raise awareness of the issues.

“Berlin is at the center of Europe and the center of oppression against home educating families,” said Donnelly. “We hope that Germany policy makers will join others from around the world to examine the issue and hear the presentations from noted academics and human rights attorneys.”

HSLDA also noted that Hessen is the town where Juergen and Rosemary Dudek have struggled to homeschool for years.

They now are waiting to hear from Germany’s constitutional court on a case to determine whether the laws in Hessen used to criminally convict homeschoolers are too vague.

Homeschooling is recognized as a right by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

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