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Schools of thought

"Schools of thought" Continued...

Issue: "Boston Terrorthon," May 4, 2013

Heck—who grew up attending schools and university in Germany before attending Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia—says the makeup of public schools varies across Germany. He acknowledges objectionable parts of the German curriculum mean Christian parents have to do more at home to help their children cultivate a Christian perspective. He also notes most German parents are significantly involved in their children’s schooling, even if they’re not Christian.

Heck says Germany’s secular mindset makes many Germans wary of organized religion, and especially evangelicals. Public figures lump evangelicals into the same category as radical Islamists, he says: “In the public media, the term ‘fundamentalist’ now covers the bomb-throwing Muslim fundamentalist and the evangelical fundamentalist.”

It’s a perception that leads to an unfair suspicion of homeschooling evangelicals, he says: “General thinking is that homeschooling equals brainwashing, and brainwashing violates the rights of the child.”

Ken Matlack—director of European missions for Mission to the World (MTW)—says all MTW missionaries in Germany send their children to public schools. And though he’s in favor of freedom to homeschool, he says it’s a tough battle in a German culture that places a heavy emphasis on the society and community.

The German constitution says raising children is “the natural right of parents and a duty primarily incumbent upon them.” It adds: “The State shall watch over them in the performance of this duty.”

That’s an oversight the Romeikes don’t want when it comes to homeschooling. 

The German Constitutional Court ruled in 2006 that German officials have a right to oppose homeschooling: “The general public has a justified interest in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated parallel societies.” That’s an argument that’s typically been used to staunch the influence of radical Muslims in Germany.

U.S. immigration judge Lawrence Burman found the logic violates the Romeikes’ religious liberty, and called it “utterly repellant to everything we believe in as Americans.”

American law allows the government to grant asylum if a person is “unwilling or unable to return to his or her home country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” 

That definition can be broad. For example, the U.S. government considers homosexuals who face persecution in their home countries as part of a particular social group, and sometimes extends asylum. Judge Burman found the Romeikes not only face religious persecution, but are also part of a particular social group that faces persecution in Germany. He granted asylum in 2010.

But the Obama administration appealed Burman’s decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, arguing that the German law doesn’t violate the family’s religious freedom because it applies to everyone in Germany, not just Christians. The board agreed and overturned the judge’s ruling.

The Romeikes say though the law does apply to all Germans, the German government has used it to target religious homeschoolers. For example, Wolfgang Drautz, consul general of Germany, echoed the country’s constitutional court, saying when it comes to homeschooling, the government has “a legitimate interest in countering the rise of parallel societies that are based on religion or motivated by different worldviews, and integrating minorities into the population as a whole.”

The Romeikes also reject the DOJ’s argument that since not all Christians homeschool, the family doesn’t face Christian persecution. HSLDA attorneys say that argument rejects the notion of individual religious liberty.

Eric Rassbach of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty agrees. Rassbach co-wrote a Becket Fund amicus brief in favor of the Romeikes. He says the German law not only contradicts an American sense of religious liberty, “I don’t think it fits with the overall idea of human rights.”

Even the United Nations has urged Germany to allow homeschooling in the past, and the group’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

Michael Farris of HSLDA says the Obama administration is arguing that homeschooling is not a fundamental human right. Rassbach from Becket Fund agrees that’s “a necessary implication” of the government’s argument against the Romeikes.

Rassbach doesn’t worry the case could adversely affect homeschoolers in the United States. He notes the government’s position in a single case won’t change current laws, particularly since most homeschool regulations exist on a state level.

But he also says the case could reveal a bias against religious liberty that is troubling. “It doesn’t translate into an immediate threat,” says Rassbach. “But it’s not good that they take this position.”

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