DOJ: Governments can punish homeschoolers

By Bob Unruh

The Romeike Family

The U.S. Department of Justice has revealed in a court filing it agrees with the philosophy of the German government that bureaucrats can punish homeschooling parents.

The agency contended parental rights to keep children free from instruction that violates faith essentially are negligible when the government’s goal is an “open society.”

The arguments were made in a pleading before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that urges the judges to send a German homeschooling family, the Romeikes, back to Germany where members likely would face persecution.

“The goal in Germany is for an ‘open, pluralistic society,'” wrote the government’s pleading, signed by Senior Litigation Counsel Robert N. Markle in Washington.

German law, he argued, requires attendance at government schools, and punishment is levied against anyone failing to comply, even due to  religious objections.

His argument to the appellate court cited a German court decision, which stated: “The general public has a justified interest in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated ‘parallel societies’ and in integrating minorities in this area. Integration does not only require that the majority of the population does not exclude religious or ideological minorities, but, in fact, that these minorities do not segregate themselves and that they do not close themselves off to a dialogue with dissenters and people of other beliefs. Dialogue with such minorities is an enrichment for an open pluralistic society. The learning and practicing of this in the sense of experienced tolerance is an important lesson right from the elementary school stage. The presence of a broad spectrum of convictions in a classroom can sustainably develop the ability of all pupils in being tolerant and exercising the dialogue that is a basic requirement of democratic decision-making process.”

Markle insisted the punishment is fair, because it’s the same for homeschoolers and truants alike.

The Romeikes withdrew their children from German schools over teachings on sex, violence and other issues that conflicted with their Christian faith.

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The DOJ also cited international court rulings, noting: “The European Court of Human Rights has held that parents could not refuse the right to education of a child on the basis of the parents’ convictions, because the child has an independent right to education.”

Such rulings in Europe have been used to argue that it is the state that makes decisions about education for children, not parents.

“According to the court, this latter right, by its nature, calls for regulation by the state, which enjoys a degree of flexibility in setting up and interpreting rules governing its education system,” the DOJ wrote.

The DOJ continued: “The court upheld the German law, noting – importantly for purposes of this petition – that compulsory attendance does not deprive parents of their right to exercise, with respect to their children, ‘natural parental functions as educators or to guide their children on a path in line with the parents’ own religious or philosophical convictions.’

“The parents are free to attend to their children’s religious training and to offer the children opposing viewpoints from those taught in school, should they feel it necessary to do so,” the DOJ wrote.

The Home School Legal Defense Association, which is defending the family, said Germany’s actions amount to persecution, which means the Romeikes should be granted asylum.

“Silencing the ‘intolerant’ to promote tolerance is not only illogical; it is antithetical to any theory of freedom of conscience,” the organization argued earlier.

A panel of the court had rejected the family’s asylum request, the HSLDA asked for rehearing, and the court ordered the DOJ to respond.

“Attorney General [Eric] Holder is trying to seek dismissal of this case because he believes that targeting specific groups in the name of tolerance is within the normal legitimate functions of government,” said Michael Farris, the HSLDA founder. “This cannot be the ultimate position of the United States without denying the essence of our commitment to liberty.

“We’re trying to provide a home for this family who would otherwise go back to facing fines, jail time, and forcible removal of their children because of their religious convictions about how their children should be educated. Why Attorney General Holder thinks that it is appropriate for any country to do this to a family simply for homeschooling is beyond me.”

Farris had 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.

“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.”

HSLDA noted an immigration judge who heard the Romeikes’ case ruled the family had a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to German and granted them asylum.

Their children, they said,  had been undergoing indoctrination in Germany, where schools teach sexual permissiveness and leftist political ideology, and the family decided to act.

But the Obama administration, unhappy with the outcome, appealed.

Michael Donnelly, HSLDA’s director of international affairs who works with persecuted homeschoolers worldwide, said Germany “persecutes homeschoolers.”

“Exorbitant fines, custody threats, and imprisonment over homeschooling should be seen for what it is – persecution,” he said. “It is unconscionable for the 6th Circuit to ignore black and white edicts from the German Supreme Court explicitly condoning this behavior. Germany’s countrywide federal and state policies that essentially ban home education should not be accepted as complying with basic human rights standards.”

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.

The German Supreme Court said that because of the issue 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 the Romeike’s doorstep in Germany in 2006 to forcibly take their children to a local public school.

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.”

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