The U.S. Justice Department is fighting in court against a German family that came to America to homeschool their children.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike fled to the United States in 2008 after German authorities demanded that they stop homeschooling their six children. Homeschooling was made illegal in the country in 1938 under the dictatorship of Adolph Hitler, and the law has never been repealed, but rather strengthened. In 2007, the German Supreme Court ruled that the country’s mandate that children be sent to public school is necessary to “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.”
German officials have been cracking down on families that keep their sons and daughters at home, and have threatened them with fines, imprisonment and even the removal of the children from the household. The Romeike children were taken from their parents for a time before fleeing to the United States for refuge.
In 2010, Memphis immigration judge Lawrence Burman granted the family asylum, stating that he believed the Romeike’s would face persecution for their faith if they returned to Germany.
“[The law is] utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans,” Burman ruled. “[H]omeschoolers 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.”
The Romeike’s were overjoyed at the ruling, which was achieved with the help of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).
“We were so relieved!” Hannelore stated following the decision. “We had been trying hard not to get our hopes up too high. [The HSLDA attorneys] had assured us that even if we lost at this level, we would appeal and that an appeal could take years. So we knew that we wouldn’t have to go right back to Germany. But to win at this point was such an answer to prayer. Our children were jumping up and down and everyone in the room was hugging us and celebrating. Tears were flowing in gratitude for God’s protection for our family.”
However, the case was appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and the U.S. Justice Department is now fighting to have the family returned to Germany, stating that homeschooling is not a fundamental right.
“[Eric Holder’s office] argued that there was no violation of anyone’s protected rights in a law that entirely bans homeschooling,” HSLDA president Michael Farris explained to reporters. “There would only be a problem if Germany banned homeschooling for some but permitted it for others.”
“The U.S. government contended that the Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool,” he continued. “[Holder] does not understand that religious freedom is an individual right.”
Farris states that parents should not have to prove that they belong to a particular denomination in order to be granted the right to homeschool.
“One need not be a part of any church or other religious group to be able to make a religious freedom claim. Specifically, one doesn’t have to follow the dictates of a church to claim religious freedom—one should be able to follow the dictates of God Himself,” he said. “The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear in the past that religious freedom is an individual right. Yet our current government does not seem to understand this. They only think of us as members of groups and factions. It is an extreme form of identity politics that directly threatens any understanding of individual liberty.”
The case now lies in the hands of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the Romeike family continues to homeschool their family in rural Tennessee.
“Our own government is attempting to send [them] back,” Farris lamented. “Something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers.”