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September 17, 2013

State-Sponsored Kidnapping and Jail for Homeschoolers in Germany


Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, center, meet with several attorneys who convened in Germany to discuss how to persuade the government to return the couple’s children. From left: family attorney Andreas Vogt, Roger Kiska of Alliance Defending Freedom and Mike Donnelly of HSLDA.

A crucial hearing this Thursday could determine whether Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s children come home. Desperate to be reunited with their children and seeing no other legal options, they have agreed to send their children to a state-approved school.

The Wunderlich children were seized in an early morning police raid on August 29. Read the story here. The parents were able to visit the children for the first time recently and expressed hope that their capitulation to the demands of local authorities might result in the return of their children.

“We had a good visit with our children. We were very happy to see them, and they us. Our children have been fairly treated. While we do not agree that we should be forced to send our children to school, we have been unfairly treated and our children traumatized. We feel we have no choice but to agree to the local authority’s wishes and plan to comply and will work with them as we send our children to school. What is most important to us is to have our children back home,” Dirk told HSLDA.

“We are greatly encouraged by the emails and support of our fellow homeschoolers around the world,” Petra said, adding it “has helped keep our spirits up even as I miss my children so much.” Lawyers for the family are preparing to argue that the children should be returned home now that the family has agreed to the demands of the German government.

Show of Support

A gathering is being planned for homeschoolers in the Darmstadt, Germany, area to show support for the family and homeschooling freedom. People interested in learning about the gathering can visit this website.

Just a few hours north of the Wunderlichs in Hulsa, Hessen, Thomas and Marit Schaum are homeschooling parents of nine children and have homeschooled for many years in spite of persistent pressure from authorities. They have been engaged in court proceedings for some time and are now being threatened by Prosecutor Joachim Schnitzer Ling with unprecedented six-month long jail terms. (In our experience, the longest sentence previously issued against homeschooling parents was three months each in the case of Juergen and Rosemary Dudek. Their jail term was overturned and replaced with a fine but the criminal convictions remain.)

The Schaums have successfully resisted the demands of the state and retained custody of their children. Four have graduated and are all successful in various fields of work and study. According to those close to the family, the social workers involved with the Schaum family have not taken drastic steps, like those in the Wunderlich case but have instead allowed the school authorities to seek redress through the courts. In the Schaums’ latest case, they were convicted and fined, but their attorney Andreas Vogt is appealing. Vogt is representing about a dozen homeschooling families around Germany.

Glimmer of Hope

Mike Donnelly, HSLDA’s director of international relations, returned from a visit to Germany where he learned of the Schaums’ situation at a meeting organized with European lawyers and German homeschool leaders. He said that amidst the difficulties there is a glimmer of hope.

“I see progress in our strategy to draw attention to this issue. We would much prefer that the authorities did not pursue such cruel measures like taking the Wunderlich children and wanting to send the Schaums to jail for six months. But these outrageous behaviors draw attention to the need for real reform in Germany. Mainstream German media is finally beginning to take notice. My hope is that as the media reports on what is being done to these really good families, politicians and the general public will change their attitudes and figure out a way to allow parents to have this option,” he said. “It is going to take some time, though. Until that happens, state kidnapping, jail threats, and fines will remain part of the risk of homeschooling in Germany.”

Donnelly said that a dozen lawyers from all over Europe gathered in Frankfurt to discuss other means for bringing attention to the problems faced by homeschoolers. Roger Kiska, Alliance Defending Freedom’s senior European counsel was among the attorneys gathered.

“The right of parents to homeschool should be respected and ADF is committed to working along with HSLDA and others to protect this important freedom from being marginalized. We have a variety of international tribunals we can look to besides the European Court of Human Rights which has been very antagonistic to homeschoolers and parental rights in general,” he said. “The act of these local authorities to take the Wunderlich children is unconscionable and those responsible must be held to account.”

Donnelly was encouraged by the growing group of supporters for homeschooling freedom in Germany, including attorneys and family advocates from all over Europe, such as Andrea Williams from Christian Concern of the United Kingdom, Viktor Kostov of Bulgaria, and Vasillios Tsirmpas of Greece, both attorneys affiliated with Alliance Defending Freedom.

Freedom Must Advance

These attorneys all expressed concern that parents and children be protected from unreasonable state intrusion. Homeschooling is illegal in Bulgaria and Greece and the battle for freedom in these countries is in early stages. Germany’s influence in Europe is significant, and thus it is crucial to try to advance freedom there.

“There is no doubt that we are getting the attention of the German government,” Donnelly said. “One HSLDA member told us that a special number has been set up by the embassy for calls about the Wunderlichs. Another person reported that staff members at consulates have been inundated with calls about the situation. We are hopeful that this public pressure will result in policy changes.”

Michael Farris, HSLDA's chairman and founder, called Germany’s actions lawless and expressed his intent to embarrass Germany for its failure to uphold basic human rights.

“International human rights law makes it absolutely clear that parents have the right to provide their children an education that is consistent with the parents’ religious convictions. Germany boldly proclaims that it wants to make sure that children are taught values other than those embraced by parents. Germany’s own statements make it clear that they have decided to break the law that they have signed,” Farris wrote in an email to HSLDA members.

He invited supporters of freedom to contribute to HSLDA’s planned advertising campaign.

“We have prepared newspaper ads to keep up pressure on Germany until it releases the Wunderlich children and legalizes homeschooling. Such ads cost thousands of dollars and we plan to run as many as we can.”

You Can Help

HSLDA’s support of persecuted homeschoolers serves the interests of all homeschoolers. By protecting their freedom there we strengthen our own here. If you want to speak up in a way that has worked so effectively in the past, please help fight for human rights and freedom today by making a tax-deductible gift to the Homeschool Freedom Fund.