Last year, I wrote about the situation of the Romeikes, a Christian family who emigrated to America to escape Germany’s draconian anti-homeschooling laws — laws originally put into place under the Nazis.
At the time, it appeared that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) was not going to allow the Romeikes to stay, because they saw no grounds for asylum based on religious persecution simply because the Romeikes believed that their children could not be taught their values in the German public school system. The essential position of the US DOJ was that there is no fundamental right to homeschool. This clearly set a dangerous precedent for American homeschooling families as well, especially in the face of the overhaul of the American education system under the standards of Common Core.
Earlier this month, however, the Department of Homeland Security changed their tune. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) founder and chairman, Michael Farris:
Other than the Romeike family themselves, no one could have been more thrilled than me with the sudden reversal from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which allowed them to remain in the United States. Just one day after the Supreme Court refused to review the court order that demanded their deportation to Germany, the Romeikes were informed by DHS that they could remain indefinitely in the United States where they can continue to homeschool their children.
This administrative victory needs to be understood for what it is. It is a victory for the Romeike family alone. No other German homeschooling family can benefit from the administrative grace that was shown in this one instance.
There have been other German families who have not been so fortunate. In December of 2013, the Wunderlich family lost custody of their four children for their persistence in homeschooling in defiance of German law, and they were not allowed to obtain visas to travel to a country where homeschooling is allowed. The judge in that case said that homeschooling was a “concrete endangerment to the well-being of the child”.
Farris explains the continuing danger with the US position on homeschooling as a matter of religious freedom:
Our government was not so callous as to suggest that losing one’s children would not be a severe punishment. However, the government and Sixth Circuit contended that it would not be persecution, because the family could just stop homeschooling and send their children to public schools in order to avoid the punishment.
In this context, the controlling legal rule is that persecution is proven when a government acts against a person either for an immutable characteristic or for a reason that one should not be required to change.
Our government contended that forcing a parent to have their children attend a school that violates their religious beliefs does not offend a conviction that one should not be required to change.
Hence, the first dangerous rule to emerge from the Romeike case is that governments may order children to attend schools that violate the family’s religious beliefs.
Our Justice Department and the Sixth Circuit found no motive to suppress religion in this official description of Germany’s policy. Yes, Germany did say it was “counteracting the development” of religious and philosophical minorities. But look at the motive, our Justice Department and Sixth Circuit argued. Germany is just trying to promote tolerance by putting children of all viewpoints together in one place.
Tolerance? Really? The aberrational German theory of “tolerance” was clearly demonstrated by the facts in the record.
Another German appeals court held that it is appropriate to use the family courts to seek “the removal of the right [of parents] to determine the residence of the children and to decide on the children’s education.” The same court held that it is “completely acceptable” for courts to “enforce the handover of the children, by force if necessary and by means of entering and searching the parental home.”
Why was it acceptable to use these strong-arm police tactics? That German court gave an answer: to prevent “the damage to the children, which is occurring through the continued exclusive teaching of the children of [sic] the mother at home.” The court conceded that it was not concerned with academic issues—homeschooling could successfully transmit knowledge. It was the philosophical development of children that was at issue.
The German court believed that it was “damaging” to children to be taught only the philosophy of their mother.
The long-term concern for American homeschoolers arising from the Romeike case is obvious. If our government contends that Germany did not violate the principles of religious freedom when it banned homeschooling in order to gain philosophical control over children, then it implies that it would not violate religious freedom or parental rights if the United States decided to ban homeschooling for the same purpose. After all, we would simply be promoting tolerance and pluralism.
That is the subtle but dangerous message buried in the Romeike decision.
This is an issue that won’t be going away soon. With the increased monitoring of families that will be an essential part of a government-controlled healthcare system under the Affordable Care Act, we can expect more invasion into familial privacy under the guise of the “wellbeing of children” here in the US. The push to create universal educational standards nationwide will also incentivize the government to keep children in public schools, where curriculum can be controlled and every child can be taught the “virtues” the state considers important.
Whether your child attends public school, private school, or homeschool, the continuing development of our nation’s understanding of the right of parents to have control over their children’s education bears close scrutiny.