WASHINGTON, D.C. – Give me your tired, your poor … but not your homeschooled.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike’s children were persecuted at their German public school because of their fervent Christian beliefs. That, coupled with the fact that the Romeikes found material they deemed inappropriate in the school’s textbooks, drove them to homeschool their children.
Homeschooling – a freedom that many in the United States take for granted – is illegal in Germany. In a 1938 ruling that conjures up chilling reminders of the Nazi regime, the Supreme Court of Germany stated that the homeschooling ban was put in place to “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.” Though Hitler’s reign is long over, this law remains in effect.
Despite the risks, which included fines, jail time and losing custody of their six children, the Romeikes took it upon themselves to educate their youngsters. When the government discovered this in 2008, it forcibly removed the Romeike children from their home and fined their parents thousands of euros. Uwe and Hannelore decided their only remaining option was to seek political asylum in the United States.
Initially, things went well for the Romeikes. They were granted political asylum by Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman in January 2010 and relocated to Tennessee. In his ruling, Judge Burman states, “This is not traditional German doctrine, this is Nazi doctrine, and it is in this Court’s mind, utterly repellant to everything that we believe in as Americans.”
But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Attorney General Eric Holder view the situation differently. The government challenged Judge Burman’s ruling and asked the court to rescind the family’s political asylum and deport the Romeikes to Germany. If that occurred, the parents could face astronomical fines, jail time and even the loss of their children.
The U.S. Immigration Board of Appeals sided with the government and reversed Judge Burman’s decision in May 2012.
“[The government] didn’t have to appeal it in the first place,” says Michael Donnelly, director for international affairs at the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which is representing the Romeikes. “They could have just left it alone when we won at the trial court level, but they decided to appeal it.”
U.S. government hostile to homeschooling?
The United States government argues that no protected rights have been violated because the homeschooling ban applies to all Germans, not a specific group, e.g. Christians. Furthermore, it states that not all homeschoolers are Christian, and not all Christians desire to homeschool their children; therefore, no religious discrimination occurred.
The HSLDA argues that “one of the grounds for asylum is if persecution is aimed at a ‘particular social group.’ The definition of a ‘particular social group’ requires a showing of an ‘immutable’ characteristic that cannot change or should not be required to be changed. We contend that German homeschoolers are a particular social group who are being persecuted by their government.”
The Romeikes appealed the Immigration Board of Appeal’s decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, though the case could potentially go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Donnelly says this is the first time a homeschooling family has applied for political asylum in the United States, and the outcome of the case will set an important precedent.
Michael Farris, HSLDA’s founder and chairman, explains that the Romeikes are not the only ones who should be concerned about how the courts ultimately rule.
“We should understand that in these arguments by the U.S. government, something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers,” says Farris. “The Attorney General of the United States thinks that a law that bans homeschooling entirely violates no fundamental liberties.”
This case is not only troubling, it is downright baffling. That a country would welcome illegal immigrants with open arms but attempt to deport a family seeking political asylum so they can freely homeschool their children seems counterintuitive at best.
Meanwhile, as the battle rages on in the courts, the Romeikes are happily homeschooling their children in Tennessee.
“They’re enjoying the freedom they have here very much,” says Donnelly. “They love it here, and they would love to stay and hope they can.”