One year after police in Germany obtained court permission to use “force” and arm themselves with a battering ram to remove four homeschooled kids from their parents, an appeals court has scolded officials who conducted an early morning raid.
Custody of the Wunderlich children has been returned to their parents, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, the world’s premiere homeschool advocacy organization.
As WND reported Aug. 30, 2013, the state took custody of the children of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, ages 7-14, from their Darmstadt, Germany, home by police armed with a battering ram. The parents were told they wouldn’t see the children again soon because they were violating federal law by homeschooling them. The organization noted the paperwork that authorized police officers and social workers to use force on the children contained no claims of mistreatment.
A team of 20 social workers, police and special agents stormed the family’s home. HSLDA reported Judge Koenig, who is assigned to the Darmstadt family court, signed an order authorizing the immediate seizure of the children by force.
“Citing the parents’ failure to cooperate ‘with the authorities to send the children to school,’ the judge also authorized the use of force ‘against the children’ … reasoning that such force might be required because the children had ‘adopted the parents’ opinions’ regarding homeschooling and that ‘no cooperation could be expected’ from either the parents or the children,” HSLDA said at the time.
Dirk Wunderlich told the homeschool group: “I looked through a side window and saw many people, police and special agents, all armed. They told me they wanted to come in to speak with me. I tried to ask questions, but within seconds, three police officers brought a battering ram and were about to break the door in, so I opened it.”
He said police “shoved me into a chair and wouldn’t let me even make a phone call at first.”
“It was chaotic as they told me they had an order to take the children. At my slightest movement the agents would grab me, as if I were a terrorist. You would never expect anything like this to happen in our calm, peaceful village. It was like a scene out of a science-fiction movie. Our neighbors and children have been traumatized by this invasion.”
However, HSLDA said Thursday an appeals court has now decided that both social workers and parents should be criticized but the action against the children was “disproportional” to the allegations.
The ruling said “complete custody” of the children was to be returned to the parents, HSLDA said.
HSLDA said the Wunderlichs, “who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, were very pleased with the result but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.”
“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said. “The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate – only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”
He said the fear that the children will be removed has been taken away but the family faces other problems.
“Now, we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”
Homeschooling has been banned in Germany since Adolf Hitler was in power. WND has reported over the years on a German teen who was ordered into a psychiatric ward for being homeschooled and parents who were sentenced to jail terms for homeschooling their children.
The anti-homeschool law in Germany has a dark origin: It was Hitler’s idea, and the nation has never changed it. It was in 1937 when Hitler said that 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,” the dictator said. “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.”
A year later, the Nazis adopted a law that eliminated exemptions that previously provided an open door for homeschoolers under the nation’s compulsory education laws.
As WND reported, the German government believes public schooling is critical to socialization, as demonstrated in its response to parents who objected to police officers picking up their son 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.”
The current German government has endorsed Hitler’s view of homeschooling. 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.”
Petra Wunderlich said the family has relied on outside help, including from HSLDA.
“No family can fight the powerful German state – it is too much, too expensive. If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”
Michael Donnelly, the organization’s director of global outreach, said the decision is welcome. But he warned of the dark clouds still hanging over the issue.
“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines,” he said.
That’s a problem for a democratic nation, he said.
“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he said. “Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed. Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow.”
HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said defending the family is important.
“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” he said. “Their fight is our fight and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”