Homeschooling battle takes a new turn

Those in homeschooling circles are probably familiar with the education system in Germany, which requires all children to attend an officially recognized school or face fines and penalties. The story of one German family, the Romeikes, has also gained some notoreity here: After attempting to homeschool their children and being threatened with thousands in fines, jail time, and loss of custody of their kids, the Romeikes finally fled to the United States in 2008.

Now their story has taken an interesting turn: A federal judge in Memphis has granted them political asylum in the States, on the grounds that they face persecution in their home country for their desire to homeschool — a reason that has rarely, if ever, been used in asylum cases before:

In a harshly worded decision, the judge, Lawrence O. Burman, denounced the German policy, calling it “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans,” and expressed shock at the heavy fines and other penalties the government has levied on home-schooling parents, including taking custody of their children.

Describing home-schoolers as a distinct group of people who have a “principled opposition to government policy,” he ruled that the Romeikes would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were “members of a particular social group,” two standards for granting asylum.

“It is definitely new,” said Prof. Philip G. Schrag, the director of Georgetown Law School’s asylum law program, who added that he had never heard of such a case. “What’s novel about the argument is the nature of the social group.”

But, he said, given the severity of the penalties that German home-schoolers potentially face, the judge’s decision “does not seem far outside the margin.”

In the article, the Romeikes explain their reasons for wanting to homeschool — the unruliness of their children’s schoolmates, the nature of the material taught in those schools, etc. — with which many American families can sympathize. But others are questioning the recourse to political asylum in this case. At NRO’s Corner, Mark Krikorian argues:

What we’re not doing well is drawing the distinction between governmental or social practices that we disapprove of, on the one hand, and conduct so abhorrent that it creates special immigration rights for people who have no other options. Germany’s ban on homeschooling is indeed stupid, but there are two factors weighing on the other side: First, Germany’s a democracy and if the stupid laws of every democracy are a cause for asylum, then we’re in trouble. In France, after all, you can’t (or couldn’t) work more than 35 hours a week — are we going to grant asylum to Frenchmen seeking overtime? 

Read the rest of Krikorian’s post for his second objection. What do readers think? Is the Romeikes’ case a sad one that nonetheless doesn’t rise to the level of requiring asylum, or does the German law qualify as “conduct so abhorrent” that no other option is left?

[Image: Mike Belleme for the New York Times]

 

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Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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