Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, center, meet with several attorneys who convened in Germany to discuss how to persuade the government to return the couple's children. From left: family attorney Andreas Vogt, Roger Kiska of Alliance Defending Freedom and Mike Donnelly of HSLDA.
Just as a German family has been reunited after the children were seized in a SWAT-style police raid because they were homeschooled, a prosecutor in another case is demanding six-month jail terms for parents who want to educate their children.
WND reported Aug. 30 that four children of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, ages 7-14, forcibly were taken by a team of about 20 armed law enforcement officers from their home just as their homeschool classes were beginning.
The shocking raid was made solely because the parents were providing their children’s education, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the world’s premiere advocate for homeschooling.
The organization noted the paperwork that authorized police officers and social workers to use force on the children contained no claims of mistreatment.
HSLDA officials confirmed Thursday to WND that the children were reunited with their parents after the family, given “no choice,” agreed to send the children to a government-approved education program
“We are glad the children are home where they belong,” HSDLA Director of International Relations Michael Donnelly told WND. “They should never have been taken. We will continue to support the family until complete custody is restored and they are permitted to homeschool in peace – either in Germany or elsewhere.”
But he said Germany’s alarming treatment of homeschoolers has surfaced in another case.
“We are gravely concerned about the case of Thomas and Marit Schaum, a family who face criminal charges over homeschooling. The prosecutor is demanding the parents each go to jail for six months,” he said.
“Germany’s national policy of persecuting homeschooling families must stop and we plan to continue the fight for freedom and for the rights of thousands of others in Germany and around the world to homeschool their children.”
HSLDA said the Schaums live just a few hours north of the Wunderlichs, in Hulsa, Hessen.
The Schaums “are homeschooling parents of nine children and have homeschooled for many years in spite of persistent pressure from authorities. They have been engaged in court proceedings for some time and are now being threatened by Prosecutor Joachim Schnitzer Ling with unprecedented six-month long jail terms.”
Previously, the longest jail terms handed down to homeschoolers in Germany were the three-months sentences for Juergen and Rosemary Dudek.
Their jail sentences, however, were overturned and replaced with a fine, although their criminal convictions remain on the record.
“The Schaums have successfully resisted the demands of the state and retained custody of their children,” HSLDA said. “Four have graduated and are all successful in various fields of work and study. According to those close to the family, the social workers involved with the Schaum family have not taken drastic steps, like those in the Wunderlich case, but have instead allowed the school authorities to seek redress through the courts.
HSLDA said the Schaums were convicted and fined, but their attorney Andreas Vogt is appealing. Vogt represents about a dozen homeschooling families in Germany.
The Wunderlich children were restored to their parents after the family agreed to have the children submit to government teachings. A hearing was scheduled on Thursday, and a rally in support of the family was planned.
Dirk Wunderlich told HSLDA the family was allowed a visit beforehand.
“We were very happy to see them, and they us. Our children have been fairly treated. While we do not agree that we should be forced to send our children to school, we have been unfairly treated and our children traumatized. We feel we have no choice but to agree to the local authority’s wishes and plan to comply and will work with them as we send our children to school. What is most important to us is to have our children back home.”
His wife, Petra, said, “We are greatly encouraged by the emails and support of our fellow homeschoolers around the world.”
Donnelly said he sees a sliver of hope in the developing situations.
“I see progress in our strategy to draw attention to this issue. We would much prefer that the authorities did not pursue such cruel measures like taking the Wunderlich children and wanting to send the Schaums to jail for six months. But these outrageous behaviors draw attention to the need for real reform in Germany. Mainstream German media is finally beginning to take notice. My hope is that as the media reports on what is being done to these really good families, politicians and the general public will change their attitudes and figure out a way to allow parents to have this option,” he said.
The Wunderlich case drew a dozen lawyers from all over Europe to a meeting in Frankfurt to discuss ways to raise awareness, including Roger Kiska of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which also has been integral in a number of homeschooling cases.
“The right of parents to homeschool should be respected and ADF is committed to working along with HSLDA and others to protect this important freedom from being marginalized,” he said. “We have a variety of international tribunals we can look to besides the European Court of Human Rights which has been very antagonistic to homeschoolers and parental rights in general.
“The act of these local authorities to take the Wunderlich children is unconscionable and those responsible must be held to account,” he said.
Donnelly said there is “no doubt that we are getting the attention of the German government.”
“One HSLDA member told us that a special number has been set up by the embassy for calls about the Wunderlichs,” he said. “Another person reported that staff members at consulates have been inundated with calls about the situation. We are hopeful that this public pressure will result in policy changes.”
WND reported that after the raid, hundreds of comments critical of the government’s move were posted on a variety of websites, including the Facebook page for the German embassy in Washington.
HSLDA said that when a nation has voluntarily signed up to obey international human rights obligations, the international community has the right to call such a nation to account for violating human rights standards.
The organization’s statement continued: “This is especially true when the offending nation is Germany. Modern human rights law was created in response to Nazi Germany. And when Germany today uses a law from that era to persecute families who do not want to send their children to the public schools to be indoctrinated by the government, it is the right and duty of every nation on earth to say: Germany keep your promises. Stop abusing the human rights of your citizens.”
The statement said “It is settled beyond dispute that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the unanimous vote of the UN General Assembly arose, ‘out of the desire to respond forcefully to the evils perpetrated by [National Socialists in] Germany.’ The UDHR’s view regarding parents and children is no exception to this rule. Article 26(3) of the UDHR proclaims: ‘Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.’ Numerous human rights instruments have been drafted in reaction to ‘the intrusion of the fascist state into the family’ with its goal of seeking ‘to alienate children from their parents for the purpose of political indoctrination.”
Germany’s homeschooling ban dates to the Hitler era, but the current German government has endorsed it fully. In 2003, the German Supreme Court handed down the Konrad decision in which “religiously or philosophically motivated” homeschooling was banned.
Four years later, the German Federal Parliament changed a key provision of German child protection law, making it easier for children to be taken away from their parents for supposed “educational neglect.” In that same year, the case of Katerina Plett, a homeschooling mother who moved with her children to Austria while her husband maintained the family residence in Germany, made its way to the highest criminal court in Germany.
That ruling said “the general public has an interest in thwarting the development of religiously or motivated parallel societies” and “integrating minorities in that regard.”
The court, stunningly, said homeschooling was a form of “child endangerment,” so authorities were justified in using force to take children.
Michael Farris, HSLDA founder, said although the case is in Germany, others should be concerned.
“I want the American homeschool community and other friends of liberty to take note – this mindset isn’t limited to Germany. Many U.S. policymakers and academics agree. … They are even working to see them realized here. So far, thankfully, homeschooling isn’t a legitimate reason (anymore) for the government to kidnap your children if they don’t go to state approved schools,” Farris said.
Donnelly said there are “already too many voices in the United States that want to advance the idea that the state must control education for the safety of the state or other reasons.”
“And this is the same rationale of the German government in perpetrating deplorable acts like this,” he said. “Why should we think it couldn’t or won’t happen here?”
Donnelly asked further: “Can’t a government that can order you to get health care tell you that you don’t qualify for certain life-saving treatments, tell parents they can’t allow their children to get certain kinds of counseling or that they must have a particular kind of medical treatments or that certain religious speech is intolerant and may not be permitted or must be punished, or that only national curricular standards are acceptable for all children, etc. – can’t a government like that order you to send your children to school? And then punish you if you don’t?”
Another German family, the Romeikes, sought and obtained asylum in the United States because of German persecution over their homeschool, but the Obama administration appealed and obtained an order from a higher court that the family must return to Germany. It’s now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Obama administration has argued in court parents essentially have no right to determine how and what their children are taught, leaving the authority with the government.
See a report on the Romeikes:
It was in 1937 when Adolf 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.”