The conservative news and blogosphere has been exploding because of the story of Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, a married couple from Germany with several children. Back in 2006 the family was resisting the German government’s law that all children must attend public schooling. The Romeikes instead preferred homeschooling, which meant they were going to be fined per child, per day, and they may lose the custody of their children. The most useful webpage about the case I have found has numerous, long quotations from the US legal decisions that detail the history of this case, which you can find here.
A few details to note are that the family did go to court in Germany, but there they lost their cases. The fines were becoming very large (7000 euro, while the family had an income of 12,000), so in 2008 the Romeikes fled to the United States for political asylum. In 2010 a US immigration judge, Lawrence O. Burman, granted them asylum. Then in 2012, the decision was repealed by Immigration Board of Appeal. There was also a peer-reviewed paper back in 2011 about the case, which you can read here. You will also be able to read the case the Romeikes (more correctly, their lawyers) made in their opening statements here, the DOJ’s responses here, and a response to that response here.
So, the basics of the case are if the Romeikes have a case for political asylum, and that means they have to show that they are escaping a sort of political persecution, in this case by the German government. They contend that the law forcing their children to attend public school is not religiously neutral, hence it is biased against certain religious practices, and this is a violation of human rights. To make the case that their religious practices are being persecuted, they argue that they are a “particular social group”, the subject of the legal paper I mentioned above.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is arguing that the Romeikes cannot show that they are the sort of social group that is the subject of such persecution. They make the points that not many religious people in Germany argue to homeschool their children (only 500 in a population of 82 million actively homeschool), and not all who want to homeschool are doing so on religious grounds. Some argued that they worried about bus routes, others that the material wasn’t sufficiently challenging, or there were noisy classrooms; all these groups were fined as the Romeikes were. This suggests there is not a homogeneous “particular social group” that the Romeikes belong to that makes them the subject of persecution, so their appeal for political asylum is invalid. (It should also be noted that the European Human Rights Court back in 2006 decided on a similar case, agreeing that Germany has the right to force all children to attend public school; you can read that decision here. That decision also pissed off conservatives in Europe.)
So, let’s be clear about what the DOJ is not doing. They are not trying to deport this family because they are Christian or because they are homeschooling their children. Thousands of families in the US are Christian and do not use public or private schools, and they are not being sent away or arrested, so this is nonsense. The reason the DOJ is involved is because this is a political issue; it’s about political asylum and if it’s grounded. That’s a big deal when you have legal decisions that are declaring a fellow nation (and ally no less) is persecuting political figures (all the more-so when the European courts find the law to be valid and not step on human rights). Lastly, this hardly ties into the immigration debate at all; the family was not going through normal immigration routes but a more political process, which has nothing to do with legal or illegal immigration statuses.
So, let’s turn to what is the more interesting and important point of conversation: does a country have the right to force children to attend schools against the wishes of their parents? In one way, there is the issue of social contract and the bettering of society. We know an educated populace is one that is better-off and tends to elect better leaders. This was a point argued long ago by Thomas Jefferson. However, the Romeikes are not asking for not educating, but to have direct control of their children’s education. Again, here in the US that is legal, though there are hoops to jump as there is with anything that goes outside normal bureaucratic routes. In the DOJ argument, there is nothing about homeschooling not being a right (but that is claimed in numerous conservative sources), just that the argument wasn’t used in the initial court argument back in 2008/9. The DOJ also noted that, in fact, there are previsions for homeschooling in Germany; one child may be in public school while another is at home, or homeschool for some years and not others.
But why does Germany have laws that make homeschooling difficult? Some have alleged this is a hold-over from the Nazi-era when this sort of schooling was there to indoctrinate children into a love of der Führer. This was found by the Immigration Board to be not supported by the documentation and inflammatory. As for the actual reasons, that seems to be to make sure that there is a more unified culture and avoid the creating of subcultures that poorly integrate into the larger whole. The purpose is to have greater toleration and pluralism through avoiding have separate schools and effectively separate societies. The case of Northern Ireland is a good example of this with Catholic and Protestant schools helping keep old rivalries and hatred going. Germany is already having a problem because of how they split up their children based on ability, a policy that tends to hold back immigrants or children of immigrants, namely Turks; this has already created a significant amount of social anxiety, and the country doesn’t need more sources of this.
Are the Romeikes being persecuted because of their religion? As I noted above, there are plenty of other cases where families had secular arguments against sending their children to public school, but they were fined nonetheless. That the reason the Romeikes refused to have their children go to public school is religious is thus not the reason for the German legal system getting involved; to not have done so would have privileged religious over non-religious arguments. So we have a group of Christians claiming persecution because they are being forced to follow the law as everyone else does; that isn’t persecution any more than a priest being sent to jail for child rape–not prosecuting this would be privileging religion. There is a difference between having a privilege, being equal under the law, and being persecuted, but this German family refuses to see that.
But now you can see why Fox News and other conservative outlets were all over this case. It could involved so many hot-button words and topics: Nazis, homeschooling, Obama/Eric Holder, immigration, and religious persecution. But it seems to be largely a fantasy, and in a recent book by Candida Moss, much of the alleged persecution of Christians throughout history is mythical (not to say it hasn’t even happened). All this story needed was a bit of work by the people under Roger Ailes (as well as some help from the Home School Legal Defense Association).