A German appeals court tossed out three-month jail terms issued to a mother and father who homeschool their children, but the ruling also ordered new trials that could leave the parents with similar penalties, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
WND has reported extensively on the case against Juergen and Rosemarie Dudek of Archfeldt, Germany, who last summer received formal notices of their three-month sentences and issued appeals.
The 90-day sentences came about when Hesse State Prosecutor Herwig Muller appealed a lower court’s determination of fines for the family. The ruling had imposed fines of about 900 euros, or $1,200, for not sending their children to school
Muller, however, told the parents they shouldn’t worry about any fines, since he would “send them to jail,” the HSLDA reported.
Word reached the family, however, on Christmas Eve of the appeals court decision rejecting the prison sentences.
“We are relieved and grateful that the appeals court has set aside these harsh sentences,” Juergen Dudek said. “However, we know that this is not the end of the story since new trials have been ordered.”
While no new trial dates have been scheduled yet, Dudek reported the sentences were overturn on three grounds, including a technical error when Muller failed to pinpoint the crimes allegedly committed.
The higher court also cited a procedural decision that allowed an appeal only of the sentence, when the entire case should have been considered, and the lower court sentencing appeared to include some improper procedures.
“The latest measures being taken by the government against homeschoolers are designed to make us afraid and to give up,” he said. “The changes in laws to make it easier to take away children, and the more aggressive posture of the Jugendamt [state youth welfare offices] in trying to threaten parental custody demonstrate that the government is trying to intimidate and scare homeschoolers.
“We must not be afraid,” he said. “Fear saps our courage, our strength and our perspective. To win this fight we must stand firm and trust to the Lord to deliver us.”
He said the encouragement for the family from contacts with American and other international homeschoolers has been a blessing.
“The letters we receive, the phone calls and especially the prayers – we know people are interceding on our behalf make the difference. We are so grateful to our American and European brothers and sisters who are standing with us and encouraging us. Without their support in letters and prayers, I think it would be much harder for us,” he said.
Michael Donnelly, the HSLDA staff attorney who has worked extensively on a number of cases from within Germany and coordinates organization support for persecuted German homeschoolers, said that he was pleased the jail sentences were overturned.
But he warned, “a new trial could yield the same results, so we must continue to encourage and pray for these brave people standing against the powerful German government.”
He said German authorities appear to remain dedicated to stamping out what they have called “parallel societies.”
“There continue to be signs that the German government is cracking down on homeschooling families,” he reported. “A recent letter from one family in southern Germany contained threats from local school authorities that unless the family enrolled their children in school, they would seek fines in excess of 50,000 euros (nearly $70,000), jail time and the removal of custody of the children.”
He said such behavior “by a so-called Western democracy is unacceptable.”
“It is this kind of repression that is forcing families to flee Germany and to seek protection in other countries, like the Romeike family, who have applied for political asylum in the United States,” Donnelly said.
A newspaper reporter in Hesse, Harald Sagawe, said the parents previously paid fines, because “they did not send their children to school, for religious reasons.”
He continued, “The parents, Christians who closely follow the Bible, teach their children themselves. Two years ago the court had also dealt with the Dudeks. That case, dealing with the payment of a fine, had been dropped.”
Judge Peter Hobbel, who eventually imposed the fines, criticized school officials for refusing to answer the family’s request for approval of their “private school.”
But Arno Meissner, the chief of the government’s local education department, said he would enforce the mandatory school attendance law against the family, and he said he resented the judge’s interference.
“His duty is to make a judgment when the prosecutor brings a charge and to stay out of administrative matters,” Meissner said at the time.
The attitude is typical of some officials in Germany, where homeschooling has been stamped on since the Nazi era, critics say.
Practical Homeschool Magazine has noted one of the first acts by Hitler when he moved into power was to create the governmental Ministry of Education and give it control of all schools and school-related issues.
In 1937, the dictator 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.”
Joerg Grosseleumern, a spokesman for the the Netzwork-Bildungsfreiheit, a German homeschool advocacy group, said in Hesse a family’s failure to follow the mandatory public school attendance laws violates not only administration regulations but the criminal code.
“It is embarrassing the German officials put parents into jail whose children are well educated and where the family is in good order,” he wrote about the situation. “We personally know the Dudeks as such a family.”
Officials in Hesse have said not even the family’s efforts to move out of the region would halt their prosecution.
HSLDA officials estimate there are some 400 homeschool families in Germany, virtually all of them either forced into hiding or facing court actions.
Just a few months ago, WND reported the Dudeks warned about a new German federal law that also gives family courts the authority to take custody of children “as soon as there is a suspicion of child abuse,” which is how the nation’s courts have defined homeschooling.
“The new law is seen as a logical step in carving up family rights after a federal court had decided that homeschooling was an abuse of custody,” said the letter from Juergen Dudek to the HSLDA.
The letter said local “youth welfare” offices’ new authority includes “withdrawal of parental custody as one of the methods for punishing ‘uncooperative’ parents.”
Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, has commented previously on the issue, contending the government “has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion.”
Drautz said schools teach socialization, and as WND reported, that is important, as evident in the government’s response when a German family in another case wrote objecting to police officers picking their child up 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 in response. “… 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.”