WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has replied to a request for rehearing of a case involving a Christian homeschooling family seeking asylum in the United States, asserting that the couple has not been able to prove that they have been persecuted by being forced to send their children to public school.
As previously reported, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the United States Department of Justice to respond to a rehearing request filed by attorneys for Uwe and Hannelore Romeike last month. The court had previously ruled against the Romeike family, opining that the requirement that their children be sent to public school in their homeland of Germany under penalty of law — and at the risk of losing their children — is not tantamount to persecution.
“[T]he Romeikes [have] not shown that Germany’s enforcement of its general school-attendance law amounts to persecution against them, whether on grounds of religion or membership in a recognized social group,” the court stated. “There is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law.”
The Romeike family 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was made illegal in the country in 1938 under the dictatorship of Adolph Hitler, and the law has never been repealed, but rather strengthened.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. However, the Department of Justice later appealed the ruling to the Sixth Circuit, which overturned Burman’s decision.
In court documents filed last week by the Department of Justice, the Obama administration asserted that the requirement that German children be sent to public school is valid as the government seeks to create an “open, pluralistic society.” It asserted that German officials are not persecuting the family by mandating attendance since the law applies to all citizens, regardless of their religion.
“Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen of Germany,” wrote Senior Litigation Counsel Robert N. Markle. “Along with other evidence that Germany punishes all parents who fail to comply with the law, regardless of all the reasons the parents may provide for failing to comply, substantial evidence exists to support the Board’s determination that Germany has no persecutory motive against religious minorities when enforcing the compulsory-attendance statute.”
He then requested that the court deny the Romeike’s request for rehearing of their case, essentially contending that the family should be deported.
However, Michael Farris, president of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which has been representing the Romeike family in the courts, wrote in a news release this week that it is antithetical to the principles of American liberty to assert that social tolerance trumps the right to homeschool.
“Attorney General Holder is trying to seek dismissal of this case because he believes that targeting specific groups in the name of tolerance is within the normal legitimate functions of government,” Farris said. “This cannot be the ultimate position of the United States without denying the essence of our commitment to liberty.”
“We’re trying to provide a home for this family who would otherwise go back to facing fines, jail time, and forcible removal of their children because of their religious convictions about how their children should be educated,” he added. “Why Attorney General Holder thinks that it is appropriate for any country to do this to a family simply for homeschooling is beyond me.”
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will decide in the days ahead whether to rehear the case before a full panel, or force the matter to be sent to the United States Supreme Court.