A German family seeking asylum in the U.S. to homeschool its children is asking a federal appeals court for a rehearing after the Obama Justice Department convinced a three-judge panel that the family should be deported.
The Romeike family's petition with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed by the Home School Legal Defense Association, which claims the decision to deny asylum created a new standard for such cases.
HSLDA lawyer Mike Donnelly argues the German government persecuted the family for its faith and the court is treating people who homeschool for religious or philosophical reasons differently.
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"The Romeikes have been subjected to a great injustice by the panel's approach," HSLDA's brief states. "But they will not be the last legitimate applicants for asylum who are harmed by this improper invention of a new asylum standard of 'easy cases' and 'hard cases.'"
German law requires parents to send their children to a state-recognized school.
The petition points out the panel ruling never mentioned the German high court's admission that Germany's ban on homeschooling is motivated by the desire to suppress religious and philosophical "parallel societies," such as homeschoolers.
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The panel also never mentions that the German government targets homeschoolers to prevent "the damage to the children, which is occurring through the continued exclusive teaching of the children of the mother at home."
"It's one thing to enforce truancy laws because a child refuses to go to school," said Michael Farris, HSLDA founder and chairman, who filed the appeal to the entire 15-judge panel. "It's another thing to force children to go to school because the German government doesn't want religious or philosophical parallel societies to exist."
But the court, in an opinion by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, said that while the U.S. grants safe haven to people with a well-founded fear of persecution, it does not necessarily give it to citizens of countries with laws that differ from the U.S.
Donnelly said the three-judge panel "ignored mountains of evidence that homeschoolers are harshly fined and that custody of their children is gravely threatened – something most people would call persecution."
"This is what the Romeikes will suffer if they are sent back to Germany," he said.
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WND has reported on the case since its inception. Just weeks ago, HSLDA officials launched a petition on a White House website to seek help. The White House policy is to provide a response to petitions that collect more than 100,000 signatures, but nothing has been heard since the threshold was passed more than a month ago.
"While whitehouse.gov has seen petitions ranging from serious to comical – including creating a 'Death Star' and requesting congressmen to wear sponsorships like NASCAR drivers – HSLDA believes that the Romeike petition is of utmost importance because a family's human rights are at stake," HSLDA said.
Farris warned that the court's position has far-reaching consequences.
"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.
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"I'm glad Obama wasn't in charge in 1620," Farris said in an appearance on "Fox and Friends." "The government's arguments in this case confuse equal persecution with equal protection and demonstrate a serious disregard for individual religious liberty. I really wonder what would've happened to the Pilgrims under this administration."
Donnelly said the organization got involved after learning that the Romeikes were being fined thousands of dollars and the government planned to put a lien on their home.
"I knew that this was only a starting point, and that it was very likely that very severe action would soon follow. Homeschooling is not tolerated in Germany and Uwe [Romeike] said he might have to leave the country. We are privileged to represent these modern day Pilgrims."
The German Supreme Court said because of the issues of socialization, the state, not parents, decides how children are educated.
"This is dangerous precedent. One that Americans ignore at their peril," Donnelly said.
"This is the nightmare of German parents – even non-homeschooling parents have suffered by being fined and sent to jail seeking to exercise reasonable discretion over their children's education such as opting them out of certain objectionable presentations of material that violates their convictions. German states don't tolerate differences in education – they just want uniformity. But fundamental human rights and even international law requires Germany to respect the superior right of parents over education of children."
As WND reported, police officers appeared on their Romeike's doorstep in Germany in 2006 to forcibly take their children to a local public school.
HSLDA has created an online information page with details about the case, opportunities to donate and a petition to the White House to halt the deportation.
Attorneys for the Justice Department argued 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 school's teaching conflicts with the family's religious beliefs.
Farris found the position adopted by the Obama administration startling.
"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, there's an application for Americans.
"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."
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."
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 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.
In the decision by the panel of the 6th Circuit, HSLDA said, a new set of rules was created that will "confuse the determination of future cases arising from prosecutions under generally applicable laws."
The judges said there are two types of cases: easy and hard, and the Romeike case was hard.
In addition to ignoring the motive behind German compulsory attendance laws, the brief also states the court ignores the human rights elements of the case.
"This court and others, including the Supreme Court, have ruled in favor of other asylum applicants based on human rights. The panel issuing the Romeike decision ignored the human right to teach one's children without the threat of having that child forcibly taken away," said Farris.
Donnelly has worked extensively with German homeschool families over the past six years and says there is no question that homeschoolers in Germany are being persecuted.
"If facing outrageous fines, unending criminal prosecution, and the threat of having your children taken from you isn’t persecution, I don't know what is," he said. "The German Supreme Court itself acknowledges that parents who homeschool for religious or philosophical reasons are targeted for unequal treatment. What more do you need?"
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.
WND previously reported on a law journal article that undermines the Obama administration's arguments.
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.
The journal article said, "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 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.
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 is evident in its response to 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."