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November 7, 2008

American Family Summoned to Defend Parental Rights for Homeschooling

The Berlin Wall may have been come down in 1989, but the chill on liberty that existed for decades in Soviet-influenced East Germany seems to have penetrated further into, rather than receded from, the reunified capital of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Just two weeks ago, an American family living in Berlin was summoned to appear before the family court to defend their parental rights because they were homeschooling. The court summons informed the mother and father that they must bring their children and that if they did not personally appear they could be fined up to $31,000.

The father of the family is a former member of the U.S. military working now for a German engineering firm servicing confidential military contracts. The family have been homeschooling their children for several years. After consulting the German organization, the Network for Freedom in Education, and Home School Legal Defense Association, all agreed that it was in the family’s best interest for the mother and children to depart from Germany. Within days, the mother and three children left their home and returned to the United States until the matter could be resolved.

At the court hearing, the father was represented by German attorney Johannes Hildebrandt. Mr. Hildebrandt has also represented other homeschoolers, including the famous case of Melissa Busekros, the 15-year-old girl who was taken from her home in 2006. Because of a previous higher court ruling that held that homeschooling was an abuse of parental rights, the family court judge appeared ready to terminate parental rights immediately. Attorney Hildebrandt, however, who had appealed that case with support from HSLDA and the Alliance Defense Fund, argued that such a result would be absurd since the children were not being abused but were being nurtured and educated, and that an investigation into the matter further was at least required before such a drastic step was taken. The judge appeared to relent at that point and finally stated that “If the children would be tested by a school psychologist concerning their standard of knowledge, and if the children will reach the same standard as their contemporaries, I am not sure whether I would intervene in the parental custody.”

The judge suspended the matter since the children were in the United States and not under her immediate jurisdiction. Many German homeschooling families would gladly allow their children to be tested or examined for academic performance in exchange for the right to homeschool freely. This case could be an important step in providing positive precedent. HSLDA, along with the Alliance Defense Fund, is supporting attorney Hildebrandt in litigating this case. The family is deciding whether or not they wish to pursue testing under the judge’s instructions.

Children Allowed to Remain

Another active case involves the Brause Family in eastern Germany. Last year, the state took custody of the children but, incredibly, the children have been allowed to remain home. The father, Bert Brause, is a teacher, and the family have done a superb job educating the children. It appears that not all of the officials agree that the children should be taken from the family under such circumstances. The state did, however, register the children in school and threatened the family with court action if they did not bring their children to school. The state did file intentional child neglect charges and set a hearing date. But, according to Joel Thornton, president of The International Human Rights Group, who is involved in supporting this homeschooling family, reports that hearings have been postponed now on at least two occasions. For more information on this case you can visit the International Human Rights Group website.

Custody Still in Question

The Gorber family, whose children were taken in a vicious raid in January of this year, have finally regained physical custody of their children. The Jugendamt has allowed all the children to remain at home with their parents since August. However, the family faces a court hearing set for November 12, after a previous one set for September 24 was postponed. We hope that this will be the final hearing and that this family will at last receive full custody of their children. The children are now attending a public school in the area, but the family is just happy that they are all together. Even though the children would prefer to be homeschooled, they are bearing the burden of attending the public school with a positive attitude.

Facing Jail Time

The Dudek family continues to await the result of their appeal from their 90-day prison sentences. German attorneys handling their case have filed an extensive appeal, noting numerous errors in the way the trial court handled the case. In spite of this, and yet another truancy action being filed by the local school office, the Dudeks continue to homeschool their children and to trust that God will deliver them from these trials. Mr. Dudek reported in a letter to HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly recently that he is encouraged by a slight and positive change he has noticed in the reporting of some German media about homeschoolers.

These are not all the stories but are representative of the most extreme cases of how the German government treats parents who homeschool in Germany. These families are greatly encouraged by the support they receive from American homeschoolers in the form of prayer and letters of encouragement. HSLDA is pleased to be able to give its support to these beleaguered and brave families who are standing for freedom against the powerful authority of the German state. We ask you to continue to support them with your prayers and encouragement.

If you would like to write these families you can reach them at:

Friedicchstrasse #6
37293 Archfeld, Germany

Max-Mutscheller strasse #2
D-88662 Uberlingen, Germany

Untere Dorfstrasse #28
02763 Zittau-Hartau, Germany

For more information about homeschooling in Germany and to read our strategy to support freedom for homeschoolers in Germany visit the HSLDA Germany homepage. HSLDA is pleased to stand with German homeschoolers and to support them in their fight for freedom.