By: Brian Mauldin, Liberty Center for Law and Policy, Policy Intern
Recently U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that homeschooling is not a parent’s right.[i] He said this in the context of opposing the Romeike family’s legal battle for asylum from Germany. The German government persecuted the family because they attempted to homeschool, which is illegal in Germany when invoked for religious or philosophical reasons, and has been since the days of Hitler. Last year, President Obama issued his Religious Freedom Day proclamation, declaring religious liberty to be a universal right that should be protected across the globe.[ii] How does the Administration live up to this declaration—by actually supporting Germany’s attack on religion and parental rights.
All parents should be concerned because this is not just a homeschool issue; rather, the Administration has expressed its stance on parent’s authority in general. If a government has the authority to forbid homeschooling, it is well on the way to prohibiting private schools as well, unless perhaps they meet rigid government criteria. The intent is to force children into public schools, but for what purpose—state control of children. For the vast majority of parents who send their children to public school, these attacks tie to parental rights in general and could provide a dangerous precedent. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters the Supreme Court declared that children are not mere creatures of the state and thus it cannot dictate where children attend school.[iii] But the Administration has demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the Constitution so parental rights are by no means safe. The slippery slope is real. Nations like Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands show that when governments take away homeschooling rights, it leads to taking away parental rights as a whole.
Parental Authority in Other Countries
Ruby Harrold-Claesson, President of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, describes Sweden as a dictatorship, claiming to be a democracy, where social workers dictate how people are to live. She explains they are seeking uniformity in the populace by churning out “cookie cutter” children.[iv] Sweden attains these cookie cutter children by taking away most parental rights. The Swedish government boasts how it was the first to ban spanking children.[v] Public displays of affection between parents and their children are considered inappropriate (a child was actually taken away from a family as a result of displaying affection).[vi] Because of social and economic pressures, 95% of Swedish women are pressured into the workforce, their children becoming wards of the state at 18 months old.[vii]
The Netherlands is renowned for its tolerance of drinking, smoking, drugs, and sex extending to children. Sex education begins at age four and the age of consent is twelve. A survey in 2006 revealed that over 92% of fifteen year-old boys and 97% of fifteen year-old girls admitted using some form of contraception.[viii] With these social attitudes, parents rarely confront their children on these issues.
Countries that take away parental rights, beginning with educational freedom, seek to reduce parents to mere caregivers: responsible for feeding, clothing, and satisfying their children, but not teaching, guiding, and training them. Increasing custody cases in Europe over homeschooling, and parental rights in general, illustrates that the governments are actively seeking to gain control of children.[ix]
The Romeike Family
The Romeike family fled from Germany for political asylum because they were being persecuted for homeschooling their children. Homeschooling is not entirely illegal in Germany. Gypsies and others who continuously move around can gain exemption from the law, but for those who simply want to stay home and educate their children, it is always forbidden. In the words of the German Federal Constitutional Court, homeschooling is forbidden to “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.”[x] The German government seeks to prevent people thinking differently from the government.
The Romeikes are Christians and they object to the German school system’s teaching about witchcraft and sex, especially at very young ages. The Romeikes attempted to homeschool their children despite fines because they were under the impression that they would be nominal. Instead, they were fined exorbitantly and on one occasion their children were forcibly taken to school. Germany criminally prosecuted and threatened to take the Romeikes’ children away, so they fled to the U.S.[xi]
Codified by law, the U.S. offers asylum for refugees to stay if they can show they are being persecuted for religious reasons or because they are singled out for persecution as a particular social group.[xii] Prosecution becomes persecution when the law is prosecuted selectively, penalties are disproportionate to the crime, and the government’s motivations are improper.[xiii] A U.S. Immigration Judge found that Germany selectively and disproportionally enforces its compulsory attendance law against religious homeschoolers in an attempt to “circumscribe their religious beliefs.”[xiv] He granted the Romeikes asylum in 2010.
The Romeikes did everything required to legally stay in the U.S., but the Obama Administration felt the need to appeal the decision and actually won before the Board of Immigration Appeals, which flagrantly ignored the lower court’s findings of fact in order to read in its own interpretation. The Administration truly has strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel (Matt 23:24) by refusing to grant the Romeikes asylum, while releasing a prison full of illegal immigrants.[xv] Nothing so well describes the absurdity of government action under the Obama administration. The Immigration Board held that the law promoted “tolerance” and “pluralism” rather than labeling it as the coercion that it was. The Home School Legal Defense Association has appealed the Board’s ruling to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the government’s opposing brief is officially in the name of the Attorney General. The case is titled Romeike v. Holder.
The Administration’s Argument
The Administration openly acknowledges that parents who attempt to homeschool face their children being taken away, declaring there is no universal right to homeschool.[xvi] It defends the German law, requiring public school attendance, because it claims the law is applied equally, even though families that often move around are often granted exemption.[xvii] Nevertheless, persecution applied equally is still persecution. Germany is a signee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by a unanimous vote of the UN General Assembly, which is widely considered the cornerstone of modern human rights law. The Declaration recognizes that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.[xviii] Germany explicitly has chosen to reject the Declaration and yet the Administration supports it.
The Administration also argued the German government did not discriminate based on religion because the Romeikes did not demonstrate that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool.[xix] Of course these two requirements cannot be met nor should they have to be met. The Administration does not (or chooses not to) understand that religious freedom is an individual right—individuals are free to follow the dictates of their own consciences in every aspect of their lives, not just have the freedom to worship on Sunday with a particular denomination.
The government puts the idea of “preventing parallel societies” in “context,” explaining that hearing diverse ideas is good for the students, as if preventing children from listening to teaching on witchcraft and sex is child abuse.[xx] Furthermore, the Administration made the argument that the Romeikes can teach their children whatever they like outside of school hours.[xxi] That is like saying the government can force feed Orthodox Jewish children to eat pork while at school because the parents can feed them a kosher diet outside of school hours. The Romeikes do not want their children to be taught a school curriculum contrary to their religious beliefs and they have a fundamental right to prevent as much.
While Germany may promote tolerance, it does not practice it and the Administration seems to value relations with Germany over the persecuted citizens who flee from it. Furthermore, the Administration seems to be in favor of Europe’s example of eliminating parental rights. Parents need to assert their right to control the education of their children and avoid much of Europe’s slippery slope. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association presents such an opportunity with its petition to be sent to the White House urging it to cease opposing the Romeike’s petition for living in the U.S. (available at http://www.hslda.org/legal/cases/romeike.asp?src=slide&slide=Romeike_hands_March27_2013&pos=1).
The petition presents an opportunity for the Romeikes and homeschooling, but also presents an opportunity to oppose infringement on parental authority in general. Shouldn’t parents get to decide where there children go to school? Shouldn’t parents get to decide when and how their children learn about sex and homosexuality? Shouldn’t parents be able to decide whether their children can take morning after pills and have abortions? Just as the state has persisted in substituting its authority for that of God, it is trying to substitute its authority for that of parents. We must reverse the process by making our voices heard.
[ii] Obama Proclamation on Religious Freedom Day 2013, http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/texttrans/2013/01/20130116141055.html#axzz2Q4L3Rt3a
[iii] Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 535 (1925).
[iv] Dale Hurd, Americans Warned: Home Schoolers Stripped of Rights (Published Mar 19, 2013) http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2013/March/Americans-Warned-Homeschoolers-Stripped-of-Rights/
[vi] Parental Love Forbidden Family Affection Inappropriate in the Swedish Social Paradise (Published Sep 10, 2011) http://www.freesweden.net/parental_love_forbidden.html
[vii] Parental Love Forbidden Family Affection Inappropriate in the Swedish Social Paradise (Published Sep 10, 2011) http://www.freesweden.net/parental_love_forbidden.html
[ix] Increasing custody cases in Europe are proof that officials there have declared war against home schooling and parental rights, according to some residents, http://blog.echurchwebsites.org.uk/2009/11/06/increasing-custody-cases-europe-proof-officials-declared-war-home-schooling-parental-rights-residents/
[x] Konrad, Bundesverfassungsgericht [BVerfG] [Federal Constitutional Court] April29, 2003, 1 BvR 436/03 (F.R.G.). R. at 760 ~ 8.
[xi] HSLADA’s Brief at 7. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeMeritsBrief.pdf
[xii] Law ofAsylum in the United States,§ 4:1 (2012)
[xiii] HSLADA’s Brief at 7. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeMeritsBrief.pdf
[xiv] HSLADA’s Brief at 8. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeMeritsBrief.pdf
[xv] OBAMA'S RELEASE OF ILLEGALS 'IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE' (Published Feb 27, 2013) http://www.wnd.com/2013/02/obamas-release-of-illegals-impeachable-offense/
[xvi] Attorney General’s Brief at 29. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeDOJMeritsBrief.pdf
[xvii] Attorney General’s Brief at 29. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeDOJMeritsBrief.pdf
[xviii] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 71 G.A. Res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc A/810 (1948), Art. 26(3).
[xix] Attorney General’s Brief at 20-1. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeDOJMeritsBrief.pdf
[xx] Attorney General’s Brief at 30. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeDOJMeritsBrief.pdf
[xxi] Attorney General’s Brief at 34-5. http://www.hslda.org/hs/international/Germany/RomeikeDOJMeritsBrief.pdf