A homeschooling mother in Ireland in an ongoing battle with her government over paperwork requirements has been sent to prison for 10 days.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, the premiere advocate for homeschooling worldwide, said Monica O’Connor is in the middle of her sentence at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin.
She and her husband, Eddie O’Neill, a former secondary-school teacher, were found guilty of failing to register their children as homeschool students under the Irish Education Welfare Act of 2000. The law requires parents to send their children to a “recognized” school or register them for home education.
According to the Irish newssite TheJournal.ie, the family has argued Ireland’s constitution assures parents of their right to educate their children, so no registration is needed.
O’Connor told the Irish radio network RTE the law “trampled on the rights of families to the extent where you must apply [for permission for home education].”
She cited the constitution’s provision that the “primary and natural educator of the child is the family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children.”
Mike Donnelly, an HSLDA international attorney, has worked with a number of Irish homeschoolers on the issue, meeting with members of the Irish National Education and Welfare Board.
‘Just trying to do their jobs’
Donnelly said he hears alarm bells when bureaucrats say they are “just trying to do their jobs” when enforcing limitations on constitutionally protected freedoms.
“HSLDA opposed this Education Act in 1999, but I am astounded that a homeschooling mother in the Republic of Ireland could find herself in jail over this,” he said. “Even German courts, who are among the most hostile to home education, have balked in recent years at actually incarcerating parents over similar charges.”
Donnelly argued Ireland has an “explicit constitutional protection for home education, and this is an unconscionable judgment.”
“I hope this incident wakes up the Irish Legislature to the concerns shared by many Irish families and that they revise this vague, burdensome and intrusive law,” he said.
O’Connor began serving a 10-day sentence July 31 for failing to pay $3,000 in fines imposed because the family didn’t register the children for homeschooling.
HSLDA said the law, which generated controversy when it was adopted, had largely been ignored by both homeschoolers and law enforcers.
“However, in recent years the bureaucracy has gathered momentum, resulting in increasing friction between officials and homeschoolers. Although many Irish home educators do register, there are significant numbers who refuse to do so because they object to the act’s requirements,” HSLDA said. “They, like the O’Neills, point to the Irish Constitution as recognizing their right above and before the statute and say that the statute interferes with their right.”
The Journal report noted the family had complied with the registration requirements for nearly two dozen foster children they had educated over the years. But the current case involves the couple’s biological children, not wards of the state, and the report said O’Connor believes she should not have to apply for permission to exercise her constitutional rights.
According to HSLDA, another home educating mother, Claire Thompson, wrote in a blog it wasn’t the registration so much as having to request permission.
“It’s not a matter of simply registering,” Thompson wrote. “If it were, many of us would have no problem. It’s the fact that we have to apply to register – i.e., we have to ask their approval to home educate when we don’t need approval or permission. The right to home educate is covered by the constitution. The law is wrongly phrased. You cannot ask for permission for something you have a right to do.”
The trial judge decided not to rule on the constitutional issue, convicting the couple of failing to file the paperwork and fining them $3,000. The jail term followed their refusal to pay the fine.
Option: Move out of country
HSLDA said that in several other confrontations over Ireland’s requirement, families have opted to move out of the country.
“While government may exercise its authority to regulate education, imposing increasing burdens based on the whim of bureaucrats is a recipe for disaster,” HSLDA said. “It is a public policy catastrophe and tragedy when a parent is sent to jail over homeschooling.”
The organization said O’Connor’s case appears to be the first in Ireland of a parent being jailed.
“We hope the Irish Legislature will review and consider that the regulatory regime they have created is likely at odds with their constitution and the fundamental rights of parents to decide what is best for their children without this kind of undue burden and will take action to change it,” HSLDA said.
Homeshooling parents in other European nations also have faced conflict with their government.
As WND reported one year ago, four children, ages 7 to 14, were forcibly taken from their Darmstadt, Germany, home by police armed with a battering ram. Their parents, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, had battled the government for years over Germany’s World War II-era requirement that all children submit to the indoctrination programs in the nation’s public schools.
Michael Farris, HSLDA founder, said Germany’s actions conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The right to homeschool is a human right,” he said, “and so is the right to freely move and to leave a country. Germany has grossly violated these rights of this family. This latest act of seizing these four beautiful innocent children is an outrageous act of a rogue nation.”
Germany’s laws against homeschooling began in the Adolf Hitler era with the aim of ensuring government has authority over the education of children instead of parents.
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.”
In 2006, a German education official said the government was working to avoid future conflicts over homeschooling with one particular family by looking “for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement.”
HSLDA has documented that the German government considers homeschooling to be child abuse, even though it 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.
In nearby Sweden, WND also reported a case in which authorities snatched a 7-year-old child from an airplane as the parents were moving to India so they could homeschool.
Swedish courts have ordered Dominic Johansson to be permanently separated from his parents, Christer and Annie Johansson.
HSLDA has warned that the behavior of German authorities is a foreshadowing of what American parents should expect if the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child ever is ratified in the U.S. Its concerns are detailed at the website Parental Rights.
Although the legal precedent now stands, HSLDA said a Department of Homeland Security supervisor then contacted the family’s representatives and said their deportation case would be put on “indefinite deferred status.”
Officials said it means the family can stay in the U.S. permanently, unless they are convicted of a crime.
Members of the family were granted asylum in the U.S. in 2010 when a federal judge ruled they would be subject to persecution for their beliefs if returned to Germany.
But the Obama administration refused to accept the ruling and appealed to a higher court, which ruled the family should be sent back to Germany. The Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene left the ruling standing.
Deportation precedent stands
The Obama administration’s decision to allow the family to stay still leaves the precedent set by the appeals court.
Supporters suggested it might take a special act of Congress to protect the family.
Uwe and Hannalore Romeike and their children, now numbering seven, fled Germany to the U.S. in 2008 because of threats of fines, jail time, loss of their children and more, because they were homeschooling.
They chose home education, they said, because of their strong Christian beliefs, which conflicted with German public school teaching, particularly concerning moral issues.
A White House website petition collected tens of thousands of signatures in support of the family, and members of Congress lobbied for the family.
During the course of the case, Attorney General Eric Holder argued that homeschooling is a “mutable choice,” meaning that the government can force parents to do as it wishes without violating any rights.
Farris offered an interpretation of Holder’s statement.
“When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice, it is saying that a government can legitimately coerce you to change this choice,” Farris said. “In other words, you have no protected right to choose what type of education your children will receive. We should understand that in these arguments, something very concerning is being said about the liberties of all Americans.”