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January 9, 2009

Appeals Court Orders New Trial for Homeschoolers Sentenced to Prison

A German couple’s jail sentence was overturned on Christmas Eve. However, the family may still face prosecution for homeschooling.

In July of 2008, Juergen and Rosemary Dudek were each sentenced to 90 days in prison for homeschooling when Hesse State Prosecutor Herwig Muller appealed a lower court’s sentence of fines for the family. The lower court judge had ordered the Dudeks to pay 900 euros (about $1,200) for not sending their children to school. Mr. Muller told the Dudeks they wouldn't have to worry about paying the fines since he was going to “send them to jail.”

However, on December 24, a state appeals court overturned the sentence and ordered new trials on the grounds that the regional court had made legal errors.

The Dudeks are pleased that the court set aside the jail term. “We are relieved and grateful that the appeals court has set aside these harsh sentences,” Mr. Dudek said. “However, we know that this is not the end of the story since new trials have been ordered.”

No date has been set for the new trial.

Mr. Dudek told Home School Legal Defense Association that the appeals court overturned the jail sentences on three grounds. The first was a technical error when state Prosecutor Mueller did not explicitly pinpoint the crimes allegedly committed by the Dudeks in the original charges. The second was because the lower court had allowed Mr. Mueller to appeal only the sentence when it should have entertained the entire question of sentencing and guilt or innocence. The third was because the regional court judge did not properly sentence the parents for each individual offense. Mr. Dudek explained that in its opinion the appeals court seems to be giving instructions to the lower court on how to avoid making these kinds of errors in the upcoming retrial.

Mr. Dudek said the trial had also taught him to overcome the fear of facing the powerful German state.

“The latest measures being taken by the government against homeschoolers is designed to make us afraid and to give up,” he said. “The changes in laws to make it easier to take away children, and the more aggressive posture of the Jugendamt in trying to threaten parental custody demonstrate that the government is trying to intimidate and scare homeschoolers. We must not be afraid. Fear saps our courage, our strength and our perspective. To win this fight we must stand firm and trust to the Lord to deliver us.”

Mr. Dudek also said that the encouragement of American and other international homeschoolers was a great source of support to him and his family: “The letters we receive, the phone calls and especially the prayers—we know people are interceding on our behalf make the difference. We are so grateful to our American and European brothers and sisters who are standing with us and encouraging us. Without their support in letters and prayers, I think it would be much harder for us.”

HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly, who coordinates HSLDA’s support for persecuted German homeschoolers, said that he was pleased to hear that the Dudeks’ jail sentence was overturned.

“However,” warned Donnelly, “a new trial could yield the same results, so we must continue to encourage and pray for these brave people standing against the powerful German government.”

Donnelly said he remains concerned that there is no indication that German authorities are changing their position on stamping out what they call “parallel societies.”

“There continue to be signs that the German government is cracking down on homeschooling families,” he said. “A recent letter from one family in southern Germany contained threats from local school authorities that unless the family enrolled their children in school, they would seek fines in excess of 50,000 euros (nearly $70,000), jail time and the removal of custody of the children. German policymakers must create regulations or laws to protect homeschooling families from this persecution. This kind of behavior by a so-called Western democracy is unacceptable. It is this kind of repression that is forcing families to flee Germany and to seek protection in other countries, like the Romeike family, who have applied for political asylum in the United States.”

HSLDA continues to work with other organizations to try to help beleaguered German parents who simply wish to educate their children at home—just as hundreds of thousands of others do in other parts of the world. To learn more about HSLDA’s activities and to listen to a Moody prime time radio broadcast with remarks by Mr. Dudek, please HSLDA’s Germany page.