FILE - In this March 13, 2009 file photo, Uwe Romeike and his wife Hannelore work with their children at home in Morristown, Tenn. The couple have moved into a modest duplex home while they seek political asylum because they say they were persecuted for their religious beliefs by home-schooling their young children in Germany. School attendance is compulsory there and educating children at home is not allowed. The German couple who fled to Tennessee so they could homeschool their children have been granted political asylum by a U.S. immigration judge on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

How serious is America about parental rights in education? Pretty serious, it seems. Last week an immigration judge in the US granted political asylum to a German family who want to homeschool their children — something that is illegal in Germany. Germany for its part is very serious about suppressing what it calls “parallel societies” based on religion or worldview — which is how it sees homeschoolers.

Tennessee Judge Lawrence Burman ruled that, after several years of run-ins with the authorities in Germany, the Romeike family’s human rights were being violated in their own country and that they had “a well-founded fear of persecution” if they stayed there. Burman said homeschoolers “are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress” and this was “repellent to everything we believe as Americans”. Strong stuff, and it is not yet clear what political actions may follow.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike are evangelical Christians and their basic issue with the public schools is that they educate “according to an anti-Christian worldview”. They say that textbooks are filled with obscene language, swear words and blasphemy, and are “more about witches and vampires than about God”.

Beginning in September 2006, they kept their three oldest children (they have five) out of elementary school. After one month the police came to their door one morning and took the children to school. They continued to defy the law making school attendance compulsory, paying fines of around US$100,000.

But in November 2007 the Federal Supreme Court ruled that in severe cases of non-compliance, social services could even remove children from home. The court argued that the public has a rightful interest in preventing the formation of “parallel societies” based on religion or worldview.

That was the last straw for the Romeikes and in 2008, at the suggestion of supporters in the (US) Home School Legal Defense Association, they emigrated to the US. Speigel reported last Thursday:

HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly called the decision “embarrassing for Germany.” According to Donnelly, the Memphis court issued a final ruling “that homeschoolers are a social group that is being persecuted in Germany.” A “Western nation should uphold basic human rights, which include allowing parents to raise and educate their own children,” Donnelly said. “This is simply about the German state trying to coerce ideological uniformity in a way that is frighteningly reminiscent of past history.”

Is Germany embarrassed? It’s not clear. Plenty of people are furious with the German government, however, and with the European Court of Human Rights, which has backed Germany’s policy.

London Telegraph blogger Gerald Warner fumes that Europe has become a totalitarian state, and that it is significant the Romeikes did not seek asylum in Britain, where “[e]very possible obstacle is put in the way of homeschooling parents”.

The mentality is that the state – not parents – is the natural controller and shaper of children’s lives and beliefs. When a schoolgirl can be given an abortion without her parents’ knowledge, we know that, while public utilities may have been privatised, children have been nationalised. The Romeikes who fled from Germany objected to their children being forced to follow a curriculum that they believed was anti-Christian. The same would apply in British state schools, where pornographic sex education is increasingly being made compulsory.

In the United States at least one million children are being homeschooled — not always for religious or moral reasons — and the figure may be as high as two million. Homeschooling is also allowed in many other countries, albeit under certain regulations — and not without a certain amount of suspicion amongst some authorities.

Germany may have some respectable historical reasons for its insistence on school attendance, but shouldn’t it relax its policy now? If it is afraid of parallel societies, isn’t suppression just the way to make them flourish?

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet