Uwe and Hannelore Romeike left their home in Bissingen, Germany to escape government persecution directed at them because they homeschool. They arrived in the United States in August of this year and are settling in Tennessee where they have been warmly welcomed by local homeschoolers.
Michael P. Farris, HSLDA founder and chairman, and chancellor of Patrick Henry College, noted in an interview with World Net Daily on April 15, 2007 that “Germany’s behavior in this area is the edge of the coming night. You don’t expect to apply for political asylum from a Western country…but one person we met with said…it wasn’t so much that the [Berlin] Wall came down after the fall of communism, but that the wall moved to the West. The East German government’s philosophy seems to be the style adopted by today’s German government as it approaches children.”
Political asylum is available to people already in the United States who fear returning to their home country due to actual persecution or who have a well-founded fear of actual persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Homeschoolers certainly have a “well-founded fear” of persecution in Germany.
According to Staff Attorney Michael P. Donnelly, HSLDA’s contact attorney for Germany, “German homeschoolers, of which there are few because of the persecution, are fined thousands of dollars, sent to prison or have the custody of their children taken away. Many of these families have fled Germany when threatened with the custody of their children. Some have told me that they are willing to go to jail for their beliefs if they have to, but they will not allow the state to take their children. This year alone nearly a dozen families have fled this in the face of this harsh persecution.”
Such persecution is becoming increasingly commonplace. In July of this year, homeschooling parents Rosemary and Juergen Dudek were each sentenced to 90 days in prison for homeschooling. They are appealing. Another family, the Gorbers, had their children viciously taken from their home in a raid in January. However, a family court judge on November 12 finally issued an order restoring custody to the family on the condition that the children attend public school and that the youngest son be enrolled in a playgroup.
According to the U.S. Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, nearly 55,000 applications for political asylum were received in 2007 with nearly 13,000 being granted. Last year, according to the report, there were 20 applications from Germany with four granted. The U.S. State Department has noted that homeschooling in Germany is an issue they are watching. In its 2007 Human Rights Watch report on Germany, the State Department writes that “[t]he legal obligation that children attend school and the related prohibition on home schooling were problems for some religious groups.”
HSLDA has been working to support freedom for homeschoolers for nearly a decade. Donnelly observed that, “While there are slight glimmers of hope, the reality for homeschoolers in Germany today is grim. Scores of other families have been fined tens of thousands of dollars with their bank accounts confiscated and other property seized—just because they homeschool. If that isn’t a well-founded fear of persecution, I don’t know what is. Many of these families have fled the country in the face of this oppression.”
HSLDA learned about the Romeike family from the German Network for Educational Freedom. The thought was that sponsoring an asylum application for a German homeschooling family would allow the light of truth to shine on this problem with American and German public officials. A successful asylum application would also provide a path to safety for German families to escape persecution by immigrating to the United States. HSLDA is sponsoring a similar process in Canada.
HSLDA President J. Michael Smith agrees.
“HSLDA is committed to advancing the cause of homeschooling here and abroad,” said Smith. “By standing with our persecuted brothers and sisters in Germany, we hope to inspire American homeschoolers not to take their freedom lightly, but to remember that freedom requires sacrifice. We also hope that with our encouragement and support, change for the better can happen. Our freedoms have long been an inspiration to others all over the world.”
Uwe Romeike, a music teacher, and his wife Hannelore, are grateful for the support they have received from HSLDA and American homeschoolers. “We love living in Tennessee. It is so beautiful, and the freedom we have to homeschool our children is wonderful,” said Mrs. Romeike “We don’t have to worry about looking over our shoulder anymore, wondering when the youth welfare officials will come or how much money we have to pay in fines.”
“We have received so much love and support,” said Mr. Romeike. “Our children are no longer homesick. They are so happy to be able to be homeschooled here. The Klett family and the people of Morristown have been so welcoming. We love it here. We left family, our home and a wonderful community in Germany. But the freedom is worth it. We hope that our example may pave the way for other families. It is wrong for Germany to persecute homeschoolers. But if they do not want the best and brightest and those who seek freedom, then perhaps the United States will benefit. We hope that our application for asylum will be granted.”
HSLDA has hired Texas Immigration Attorney William Humble to work on the case. Humble worked as an intern and legal assistant for HSLDA about 10 years ago when he was a law student. James R. Mason III, HSLDA senior counsel, recommended Humble for the case. “Will is an excellent attorney. He is caring and understands why this kind of work is important. I know he will do excellent work for this family.”
Humble is pleased to be able to work on this groundbreaking case.
“As a homeschooled student I enjoyed great flexibility to pursue my interests, and now I get to use my legal training to help a homeschooled family in need. It’s tremendous!” said Humble. “The Romeike family is a normal German family who would have preferred to stay in Germany. Their religious convictions would not allow them to send their children to the secular public schools in Germany. When the school officials in their town found this out, they began the process of trying to force the Romeikes to put the children back in school with a series of heavy fines and other threats. The Romeikes knew it was only a matter of time before they faced more serious threats. They determined to take action sooner, rather than risk the integrity of their family.”
There is a growing international awareness about Germany’s hard-line position on homeschooling.
In July 2008, former homeschooler Kathy Sinnott, who is an Irish member of the European Parliament and the vice president of the Petitions Committee, said “Germany’s approach to homeschooling compromises this and forces families to choose between a job and the best interests of the children. The need for family-friendly employment policies must be recognized throughout the EU. We need to have flexibility in the education of children temporarily resident because of work. There is also an issue around the attitude to non-German families in the German children’s courts. I hope the dialogue between the commission and the German state will resolve this discriminatory situation.”
In May of this year, HSLDA was able to ask European Commissioner for Education, Training and Culture Jan Figel of Slovakia, his opinion of homeschooling. In a question-and-answer forum in Brussels, Figel supported the idea that parents are responsible for the education of their children.
“The Charter guarantees the right of parents to choose their way of education. Pluralism is the right way,” Commissioner Figel answered in response to a question about Germany’s homeschooling policies, “and we start with the parents.” The commissioner noted that, “Education is a state matter, but it is important that we respect differences. Europe is a mosaic.”