In a case with international ramifications, Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman granted the political asylum application of a German homeschooling family. The Romeikes are Christians from Bissinggen, Germany, who fled persecution in August 2008 to seek political asylum in the United States. The request was granted January 26 after a hearing was held in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 21.
“We can’t expect every country to follow our constitution,” said Judge Burman. “The world might be a better place if it did. However, the rights being violated here are basic human rights that no country has a right to violate.”
Burman added, “Homeschoolers are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress. This family has a well-founded fear of persecution…therefore, they are eligible for asylum…and the court will grant asylum.”
In his ruling, Burman said that the scariest thing about this case was the motivation of the government. He noted it appeared that rather than being concerned about the welfare of the children, the government was trying to stamp out parallel societies—something the judge called “odd” and just plain “silly.” In his order the judge expressed concern that while Germany is a democratic country and is an ally, he noted that this particular policy of persecuting homeschoolers is “repellent to everything we believe as Americans.”
‘Embarrassing for Germany’
“This decision finally recognizes that German homeschoolers are a specific social group that is being persecuted by a Western democracy,” said Mike Donnelly, staff attorney and director of international relations for Home School Legal Defense Association. “It is embarrassing for Germany, since a Western nation should uphold basic human rights, which include allowing parents to raise and educate their own children. This judge understood the case perfectly, and he called Germany out. We hope this decision will cause Germany to stop persecuting homeschoolers,” he added.
The persecution of homeschoolers in Germany has been intensifying over the past several years. They are regularly fined thousands of dollars, threatened with imprisonment, or have the custody of their children taken away simply because they choose to home educate.
The Romeikes expressed relief when they heard the decision.
“We are so grateful to the judge for his ruling,” said Uwe Romeike. “We know many people, especially other German homeschoolers, have been praying for us. Their prayers and ours have been answered. We greatly appreciate the freedom to homeschool we now have in America and will be building our new life here,” he added.
Donnelly testified at the hearing on January 21, telling the immigration Judge that homeschoolers are persecuted all over Germany.
‘Ignoring the Truth’
“There is no safety for homeschoolers in Germany,” Donnelly said. “The two highest courts in Germany have ruled that it is acceptable for the German government to ‘stamp out’ homeschoolers as some kind of ‘parallel society.’ The reasoning is flawed. The fact is that homeschoolers are not a parallel society. Valid research shows that homeschoolers excel academically and socially. German courts are simply ignoring the truth that exists all over the world where homeschooling is practiced. They need to look beyond their own borders.”
In 2003 the highest administrative court in Germany, which interprets its federal Constitution, ruled in the Konradcase that it was permissible for parents who have jobs that require them to travel—such as circus performers and musicians—to homeschool, but homeschooling was prohibited for parents who wanted to for reasons of conscience. The highest criminal court said in the Paul-Plett case in 2006 that the government was allowed to take custody of children whose parents want to homeschool for reasons of conscience.
Donnelly challenged the reasoning of the German courts.
“It is ridiculous for German courts to say that homeschooling is allowed if you have practical reasons but disallowed if you have conscientious reasons,” Donnelly said. “This is simply about the German state trying to coerce ideological uniformity in a way that is frighteningly reminiscent of past history. Homeschooling is a growing social movement all over the world, and the Germans want to stamp it out based on a fabricated notion that homeschoolers are a ‘parallel society.’ Germany’s treatment of homeschooling families is worthy of condemnation from the international community. I am proud that a United States immigration judge recognized the truth of what is happening in Germany and has rendered this favorable decision for the Romeike family.”
German homeschoolers have been organizing and trying to draw the attention of German politicians. It has been difficult. Juergen Dudek is a homeschooling father who had been sentenced to 90 days in jail for homeschooling, but whose sentence was reduced to a $300 fine. He noted that officials in Germany have no appreciation for homeschoolers who think differently than the state.
‘Send a Loud Message’
“It is incredible to me that these officials give absolutely no weight to our faith or other conscientious objection to attendance at the public schools,” said Dudek. “We have had a number of families who are not homeschoolers, but who know that the German school system is failing, who called us to encourage us. In our re-hearing the judge issued a decision reducing our sentence from jail to a fine but was totally dismissive of our reasons for wanting to homeschool. We have always been encouraged by the support of American homeschoolers, and we hope that this decision will send a loud message to the German people that what our country is doing is wrong.”
A board member of the Netzwerk Bildungsfreiheit, an organization working for freedom for homeschoolers, said that the ruling would be helpful to homeschoolers in Germany.
“This decision reveals to the rest of the world that the German state acts outside the mainstream of Western democracies. Germany is in the company of countries like China, North Korea and others where fundamental human rights are not respected. Germany’s behavior exposes the totalitarian character of the German school law that takes away a parent’s right to educate their children. A decision on behalf of the Romeikes puts blame on the German government and is a serious warning to Germans officials to change their policies and further accept the rights of the parents. We hope that the decision will send a clear message to authorities in Germany to make changes right away!”
Mike Smith, president of HSLDA, also applauded the decision.
“It’s recognition that the German state is persecuting homeschoolers,” he said. “We are pleased to have been able to support this courageous family, and we hope and pray that this decision will have a decisive effect on German policy makers who should change their laws to recognize parents’ rights to educate their own children.”