Over the past seven days I have tracked a story about a Christian family from Germany who were been granted political asylum in the U.S. after facing the threat of prison for home schooling their children. This is the kind of story that makes American conservatives excited and then tends to stoke Internet chatter pretty significantly. A number of U. S. newspapers and blogs picked up this story and a great deal is already being written about it. It appears the source being used is called the Christian Institute in England. Colin Hart (photo at left), director of the Christian Institute, writes on their Website that the Christian Institute exists for "the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom" and "the advancement of education." Here is how the home school story was reported on Thursday of last week:
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who are evangelical Christians, were forced to flee Germany as they wished to educate their five children at home. The news source wrote of the story: "Home schooling is still illegal in Germany under laws introduced during the Nazi era (italics mine). The German law means that parents who choose to home school their children can face fines or even imprisonment."
Mr. Romeike said: "I think it's important for parents to have the freedom to choose the way their children can be taught." Mr. Romeike and his wife withdrew their three oldest children from school in 2006 after they encountered problems with violence, bullying and peer pressure. However, the decision to educate their children at home brought the family into conflict with the German authorities. The family endured harassment from the authorities, and on one occasion police officers came to the family's home and forced the children to attend school. The family fled to the US after Germany's highest court ruled that in severe cases of non-compliance social services could remove home schooled children from their parents. Describing the case, Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman said that "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." The Romeike family was represented by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). Mike Donnelly, HSLDA staff attorney and director of international relations, said: "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."
But Lutz Gorgens, a German Consul General based in Atlanta, defended the German system saying that "parents may chose between public, private and religious schools, including those with alternative curricula like Waldorf or Montessori schools." The Romeike family are now free to remain in Tennessee where they have been living since 2008. In September 2009 it was reported that an American court had ordered a home-schooled child to attend a Government-run school. The court conceded that the ten-year-old from a Christian home was bright, sociable and academically advanced for her age. However the court decided she should no longer be home-schooled simply because, according to her mother's attorney, her "religious beliefs are a bit too sincerely held" and needed to be "mixed among other worldviews."
This all seems rather amazing to Americans who think about free-speech and freedom of religion. We read something like this and then it gets streamed into the American conversation about socialism, freedom and related issues. I guarantee that a story like this has legs and it will run in many church settings. But there are some serious problems with both the report and the way it should be understood. In this case facts and context are everything.
When this story appeared Uwe Siemon-Netto, a Christian journalist who has lived both in the United States and Germany, responded to a friend of mine about the story and his comments are worth repeating (with permission):
I am familiar with this case and empathize with the parents but deeply resent this article's fortuitous reference to Germany's Nazi past. Compulsory schooling in Germany, triggered by the Reformation, goes back to the 16th century, at least on some states, and to the mid-19th century in all states. The 1938 Nazi law centralized this legislation because Hitler centralized everything in the country; the term for this was Gleichschaltung. But after WWII authority over education has been returned to the individual states. Parents are free to send their kids to either public or Catholic, Lutheran or evangelical, or other religious and private schools, (all of) which are state-subsidized. Some states uphold Christian values at public schools better than others. But all 16 states require that parents send their kids to public or private schools.
Political correctness prevents public officials from naming the true reason why they would consider it insane to relax the strict school attendance requirement. Like France, Germany has huge Muslim populations unwilling to integrate. Most of their kids refuse to learn the national language well; the families reject the national culture with horrendous social costs to the entire nation. In Berlin district of Reinickendorf (pop. 360,000), for example, 90 percent of all public school students are of Turkish or Arab descent. Their dropout rate is around 90 percent. What little useful secular stuff they learn they receive from public schools, though. If homeschooling were allowed they'd send their kids to Koran schools, and there would be no way for German educational authorities to monitor their educational progress.
Most knowledgeable Germans know that this is the true reason for the stubborn refusal of German states (and the Federal Republic) to change their constitutions in this regard. This is not a good state of affairs. But by now I have come to loathe the constant bashing of present-day Germany, which is a very decent country, for its Nazi past. It would be good if the American media started covering foreign affairs again instead of spreading cliches.