The Obama administration has launched another challenge to the rights of individuals to act on their religious beliefs, this time focusing on a family of homeschoolers.
The administration already has argued in legal cases against the Obamacare contraceptive mandate that religious business owners can be forced to pay for abortifacients for their workers in violation of their religious beliefs.
Repeatedly, the government has referenced its dedication to the freedom of "worship," altering the First Amendment's assurances of freedom of religion.
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Now comes a case in which the administration is seeking to return a family of homeschoolers to Germany, where they likely would be persecuted for their religious objections to the mandatory public school system.
Attorneys for the Justice Department are arguing before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a government has every right to demand that parents send their children to public schools, even if the schools' teaching conflicts with the family's religious beliefs.
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Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, found the position adopted by the Obama administration startling.
The administration contends subjecting children to those teachings for several dozen hours a week doesn't violate any religious or human rights.
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"Does anyone think that our government would say to Orthodox Jewish parents, we can force your children to eat pork products for 22-26 hours per week because the rest of the time you can feed them kosher food?" he wrote in a website commentary.
He warned that while the case involves German homeschoolers who were granted asylum in the U.S. by an immigration judge because of the persecution they likely would face on being returned to Germany, there's an application for Americans.
"When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice – they are saying that it is a characteristic that a government can legitimately coerce you to change. In other words, you have no protected right to choose the education for your children. Our nation could remove your ability to homeschool and your choice would be mutable – since the government has the authority to force you to implement their wishes," he said.
"The prospect for German homeschooling freedom is not bright. But we should not reserve all of our concern for the views of the German government. Our own government is attempting to send German homeschoolers back to that land to face criminal prosecutions with fines, jail sentences, and removal of custody of children," he said.
"We should understand that in these arguments by the U.S. government, something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers. The attorney general of the United States thinks that a law that bans homeschooling entirely violates no fundamental liberties."
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The case involves the family of Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who in 2010 were granted asylum in the U.S. because Germany was persecuting them as homeschoolers. They had been fined nearly $10,000 for refusing to allow their children to be subjected to the social indoctrination in German schools.
Then the Obama administration went to court to send them back to Germany.
Farris pointed out the asylum law allows a refugee to remain in the U.S. due to the threat of persecution for any of several reasons, including for religious reasons or being part of a "particular social group."
But Attorney General Eric Holder's official position is that the family doesn't qualify, even though the Supreme Court of Germany already publicly declared the purpose of the German ban on homeschooling was to "counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies."
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The Obama administration position is that it is irrelevant that the children were "bombarded with negative influences" in the German public schools that included "alleged teaching of evolution, abortion, homosexuality, disrespect for parents, teachers, and other authority figures, disrespect for students, bullying, witchcraft, disrespect for family values and ridicule of Christian values."
The German goal, Farris explained, is "to prohibit people who think differently from the government (on religious or philosophical grounds) from growing and developing into a force in society."
"It is thought control. It is belief control. It is totalitarianism dressed up in politically correct lingo," he said.
But he said the what should be alarming for Americans is the "state of the position of our government at a very high level."
He said the executive branch is arguing that it's no problem to ban homeschooling.
"There are two major portions of constitutional rights of citizens – fundamental liberties and equal protection. The U.S. attorney general has said this about homeschooling. There is no fundamental liberty to homeschool. So long as a government bans homeschooling broadly and equally, there is no violation of your rights.
"A second argument is revealing. The U.S. government contended that the Romeikes' case failed to show that there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool.
"The central problem here is that the U.S. government does not understand that religious freedom is an individual right. One need not be a part of any church or other religious group to be able to make a religious freedom claim. Specifically, one doesn't have to follow the dictates of a church to claim religious freedom – one should be able to follow the dictates of God Himself," Farris wrote.
"The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear in the past that religious freedom is an individual right. Yet our current government does not seem to understand this. They only think of us as members of groups and factions. It is an extreme form of identity politics that directly threatens any understanding of individual liberty."
Germany is notorious for its attacks on homeschooling families. In one case several years ago, a young teen was taken from her family and put into a psychiatric ward because she was homeschooled.
Fines and even jail terms are common for those who offend the mandatory public school indoctrination there.
But WND previously reported on a law journal article that undermines the arguments from the Obama administration.
The article, "Germany Homeschoolers as 'Particular Society Group': Evaluation Under Current U.S. Asylum Jurisprudence," was written by Miki Kawashima Matrician and published in the 2011 Boston College International and Comparative Law Review.
It focuses on the case of the Romeikes.
The journal article noted the history of the dispute:
- In 2006 the family withdrew the children from Germany's public schools and started homeschooling because of concerns over content in modern German textbooks that violated the family's religious beliefs. The family said the objectionable material included explicit lessons on sex, the promotion of the occult and witchcraft and an effort to teach children to disrespect authority figures.
- Weeks later, German police officers entered the Romeike home without a written court order and "forcibly" removed the children to escort them to public school.
- $10,000 in fines accumulated for the family.
- Then after German court rulings that year and in 2007 "paved the way for the German government to take custody of homeschooled children, the Romeikes fled Germany for fear of losing their children.
- The Romeikes entered the U.S. as tourists in 2008 and requested asylum based on the persecution threatened by the German government.
- An immigration judge in 2010 granted asylum, but the Obama administration immediately filed an appeal, which remains pending
"The BIA should find that all German homeschoolers comprise a 'particular social group,' regardless of whether the Romeike family successfully established a claim of 'well-founded fear of persecution,'" the article argued.
The problem is that a Nazi-era law in Germany in 1938, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, eliminated exemptions that would provide an open door for homeschoolers under the nation's compulsory education laws.
The author warned that such "unfavorable treatment" is not unique to Germany.
"There is a robust debate in the United States and elsewhere regarding the validity of homeschooling as a means of education. For instance, in February 2008 the Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles handed down a surprising decision upholding the constitutionality of a state statute prohibiting homeschooling for children between the ages of 6 and 18 unless their parents possess teaching credentials," the author noted.
While that decision later was reversed, there also is a movement "to end homeschooling in United Nations member countries on the theory that a child's right to education may be vindicated only by compulsory education in traditional schools outside the home," she wrote.
Further, WND has reported on social services agencies in Sweden taking possession of a child, against the wishes of the parents, enforced by the presence of armed police officers.
But in the law, there are several provisions that support homeschooling, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The first states that "everyone has the right to education," "elementary education shall be compulsory" and "parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children," the author noted.
The ICESCR recognizes, "The liberty of parents … to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the state and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions."
And the European Convention states, "The state shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."
Germany effectively makes homeschooling illegal because of laws that make raising and training children a responsibility of the government.
Wolfgang Drautz, consul general for the Federal Republic of Germany, previously wrote on the issue in a blog, explaining the German government "has a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion."
As WND reported, the German government believes schooling is critical to socialization, as evident in its response to another set of parents who objected to police officers picking up their child 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."