Uwe and Hannelore Romeike fled to the United States in 2008, claiming the German government had denied their religious freedom by forbidding them from homeschooling their children. Now, the Obama administration is trying to send them back, even though the Romeikes might lose their children if they’re deported to Germany.
The outcome of this case could have repercussions that extend beyond the Romeike family, redefining the American interpretation of human-rights law and affecting American homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers are a small minority in Germany; the Homeschool Legal Defense Association put the number of homeschool families at about 400. German law mandates that children attend public schools. And in 2007, Germany’s highest appellate court ruled that parents who fail to comply can lose custody of their children in extreme cases; homeschool families can also face significant fines.
The Romeike family knows this threat all too well. Their Evangelical Christian faith inspired them to give their six children a religious education. “The German schools teach against our Christian values,” Uwe told Human Events. “Our children know that we homeschool following our convictions that we are in God’s hands.”
The Romeikes’ fight began in 2006, when they took over the education of their three eldest children. In retaliation, the German government charged them more than $9,000 in fines. One day, authorities showed up and forcibly took the children to public school. Fearing they’d lose custody altogether after the 2007 ruling, the Romeikes left their home in Baden-Württemberg and moved to a small town in eastern Tennessee best known for being the childhood home of Davy Crockett.
Michael Farris, chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, tells National Review Online, “We were prepared to help the [Romeikes] apply for asylum as soon as they landed.” In 2010, an administrative immigration judge ruled to grant them asylum.
But the Obama administration appealed the decision, and in 2012, the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the first ruling.
“In the very same time frame that we’re talking about amnesty for 11 million aliens, why [the Obama administration] can’t find it in their hearts to grant sanctuary to this one German homeschool family is baffling to me,” Farris says.
The Romeikes are appealing the decision, and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will soon consider the case, hearing oral arguments on April 23.
There’s a lot at stake, Farris says. The Obama administration has essentially argued, he says, that as long as a human-rights violation applies uniformly to everyone, it’s acceptable.
“Human-rights law and American constitutional law both recognize two values that we embrace: individual liberty and equal protection,” Farris says. “The reason this case is such a big deal is not just because it’s Germans and homeschooling. It’s because the question is: Is individual liberty a basis for finding a human-rights violation? And basically, the Obama administration is saying, ‘No, it’s not.’ Because Germany banned individual liberty for everyone, it’s okay. . . . [So by extension] it’s okay to repress everyone’s freedom of religion, which is to say it would be okay to repress everyone’s freedom of speech, to repress everyone’s freedom of parents. All those things are implicated in the right to educate.”
While there are few homeschoolers in Germany, there are many in the United States—1.5 million students in 2007, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Homeschool families have long held that education choice is a parental right; furthermore, it’s an exercise of free speech and, in some instances, religious freedom. By extension, it is a constitutional right and a human right, Farris says.
“If our government thinks that homeschooling is a privilege and not a right, that’s a very disturbing development for American homeschoolers,” Farris says. “I don’t see the government [winning] a case [against the Romeikes] without saying that homeschooling is not a right.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior is a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.