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May 10, 2007

New Strategy for Securing Homeschool Freedom in Germany

Note: This was originally sent as an HSLDA e-lert on May 10, 2007.

By Michael Farris
HSLDA Chairman & General Counsel

Many of you have been following the terrible plight of homeschoolers in Germany. It seems as if a week doesn’t go by without another family being threatened with fines, imprisonment, or the loss of their children. Many of you have asked how you can help our German brothers and sisters. I have just returned from a fact-finding mission where we met with German attorneys, professors, homeschool leaders, and homeschooling families.

Michael Farris

I would like to share more about the current situation of German homeschoolers and describe a new strategy for helping them attain the freedom to homeschool that we enjoy here in the United States. This is a longer letter than I would otherwise send, but it is important that I give you some historical and political context. The legal situation for homeschoolers in Germany is a complicated problem and its solution requires careful thought and planning.

Over the last seven years, HSLDA has chronicled through email alerts the escalating persecution German homeschoolers face. Since the late 1990s, scores of these families have been involved in court cases. While there have been a few instances where families have been able to continue to homeschool after or while paying fines, or when the local authorities turn a blind eye, this is by far the exception. In most cases families are fined, in some cases thousands of dollars, or when threatened with the removal of their children by German Youth Welfare authorities, have fled the country. Other families have been (and remain) separated for years—the fathers remaining in Germany to provide for their families and mothers and children living in another country where they are able to safely homeschool. Mothers and fathers have been also imprisoned, had their bank accounts confiscated, their wages garnished, or their businesses ruined by the actions of their local government.

The now infamous Konrad v. Germany case has clearly demonstrated that German homeschoolers have no hope of relief from their courts. When the Konrad family appealed to the European Court of Human Rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court refused to hear the case. In an unusual procedural response, the Court explained its rationale for rejecting the hearing on the merits of the case. Although the Court agreed that homeschooling was an exercise of protected parental liberties, it determined that these liberties were overridden by concerns raised by the lower German courts that homeschooling could create a parallel society.

In the United States, such a decision would be tantamount to the Supreme Court ruling that states could outlaw homeschooling.

While German families will continue to require legal representation, it appears that, barring a miracle, a court-based legal strategy will not yield freedom for German homeschoolers. To win, a legislative solution is needed. And in order to convince a German legislative body to change the law in favor of homeschooling, public opinion in Germany will have to be changed.

For a number of cultural reasons, the average German doesn’t understand the notion of homeschooling. Many German officials fear that active support of homeschooling will result in parallel societies, such as Islamic fundamentalism, that would endanger their country's safety and stability.

In the United States, we understand that homeschooling supports pluralism (a term which essentially means that people of different races, religions, and views should live together with mutual respect and as equal citizens), that individuals have a natural right to direct the upbringing and education of their children, and that the protection of this right is an important function of free and democratic governments.

In America, and other countries, research demonstrates that homeschooling does not isolate or create parallel societies but rather, it allows students to become highly engaged in society, enjoying a diverse and real-world educational experience, especially when compared to the institutional, uniform, and age-segregated public school system. But these notions about homeschooling are foreign to the average German citizen.

Despite their 20th century history of national aggression, Germans can trace a long tradition of excellence in a wide variety of national pursuits. They are proud of their culture, history, and expertise, and are reluctant to apply to their own country lessons and experience from other countries. However, once a new concept is validated by respected German academic and professional institutions and a viable solution is developed and implemented with some success, Germans readily adopt new ideas, including ideas about education.

A New Strategy

German homeschool leaders agree that a court-based solution to the problem of homeschooling is hopeless and that a political solution is needed. For these and other reasons, a multi-prong strategy is required to effectively support German homeschoolers in creating conditions that will pave the way for legalizing homeschooling in Germany.

This strategy will include engagement with academic and professional institutions that influence the opinions of judges, politicians, and government officials. Government officials need credible and authoritative research and opinion from German experts to inform their judicial opinions, lawmaking, and administrative decision making. This strategy must include support for embattled homeschooling families who continue to homeschool but must pay heavy fines, and humanitarian support for families who flee Germany in the face of intense government persecution. This strategy must also include applying political pressure to Germany from the international community in the form of public pronouncements, diplomacy, media reports, and grassroots activity.

HSLDA has determined to encourage this political strategy by providing support wherever and however we can to these courageous German homeschoolers and their friends who seek to protect the basic human right of parents to determine the best form of education for their children.

How Can You Help?

Your help is vital because German homeschooling families lack the numerical and financial resources to effect meaningful change.

First and foremost, we ask you to pray for German homeschooling families enduring persecution. Pray also for their leaders, who are working hard to change the current state of affairs. We ask you to pray that God would change the hearts of the German people and their elected and appointed officials so that homeschooling will be allowed in Germany. HSLDA also asks for your prayers that God will guide our actions and give us wisdom as we work with German homeschooling families and their leaders to equip, support, and encourage them.

German homeschoolers are greatly encouraged by your prayers, support, and example in maintaining the cause of homeschooling freedom in America. At times, we will ask you to write letters and make phone calls, particularly to U.S. officials when we need them to bring specific pressure on Germany.

And we will also ask you to prayerfully consider how you can support this work financially. Initiating and sustaining this new strategy will require significant resources.

While there are those in Germany who have provided funds to support this effort, German homeschooling families are few and tend to be working class families unable to supply much financial support. We know that this is also true of many of our members and we ask you to be prudent regarding your own responsibilities when considering supporting this cause financially.

If you are able, there are many specific needs for funding, and your generous donations will help accelerate change and improve the situation in Germany. These needs include funding for research studies and books, conferences providing public opinion leaders and academics a chance to engage in dialogue about homeschooling, conferences to support and equip homeschoolers, legal fees to help support families who are most persecuted, and aid for families who must flee Germany.

German homeschoolers face a situation not unlike the situation American homeschoolers faced 25-30 years ago. However, Germans face this battle in a culture that does not place a high value, in its official documents or official action, on religious or educational freedom. That is why German homeschoolers need our help.

If you feel that this is a battle you should be involved in, will you join us in praying, lobbying, and financially supporting homeschool freedom in Germany? By getting involved, you can help secure freedoms for German homeschoolers who can’t on their own. You will also help prevent the repression of homeschooling from spreading to other countries in Europe and even to America.

Thank you and may God bless you.