The Romeike Homeschooling Case

VOL. 15, NO. 5

June 26, 2013

Attorney General Holder v. the Statue of Liberty:
The Romeike Homeschooling Case

By Virginia Armstrong, Ph.D., National Chairman

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words close the invitation inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, which for so long has beckoned to persecution victims around the world.  But does America still genuinely offer this sanctuary to persecution victims from other countries, especially if the victims are attacked by their native German government for religious homeschooling?  Uwe and Hannalore Romeike and their children would surely answer “NO!” to that question, following recent decisions of the Obama Administration and federal judicial and executive officials regarding the Romeikes’ applications for asylum in the United States.

I.  Issue and Background

Issue: The central question giving rise to this case. The issue of this critically important case can be stated simply: should the Romeikes’ applications for asylum in the United States be granted? The Romeikes’ answer [and ours] is “YES!”

Background: The factual and procedural events leading up to the situation in which the Romeike family now finds itself.

Romeike-Family

Romeike Family
Picture source: Fox News online, May 14, 2013.

Romeike v. Holder presents an extraordinary mosaic of legal and factual questions involving American national and state governments, all three branches of American government, international agreements, and foreign law. The analysis offered here rests on official documents of the federal agencies and courts who have heard the case, and inescapable conclusions critical to the Romeikes’ cause can be drawn from these records.

These records show that Uwe and Hannalore Romeike were music teachers who withdrew their children from the public schools in Bissingen, Germany, and began homeschooling in 2006, for religiously related reasons. “Specifically, [the parents] objected to the teaching of evolution, the endorsement of abortion and homosexuality, the implied disrespect for parents and family values, teaching witchcraft and the occult, ridiculing Christian values and sex education.”

Under a Nazi-era law (1938), Germany banned homeschooling; and the Romeikes were subsequently subjected to a variety of punishment and other mistreatment by the German authorities. After several incidents with the authorities, the Romeikes went to court and lost, thereby becoming “criminals” guilty of the “crime” of homeschooling.

Faced with these dire circumstances, the Romeike family fled to the United States in 2008 and sought asylum.  U.S. Immigration Judge Lawrence O. Burman granted their petition in 2010.  The Obama administration, acting through Attorney General Eric Holder, objected and appealed to the Board of Immigration Review, which overturned Judge Burman’s decision in 2012.  The Romeikes then sought redress from the U. S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in May of 2013, upheld the Board and denied the Romeikes’ petition, moving them closer to deportation.  But the Home School Legal Defense Association and its Chairman, attorney Michael Farris, have vowed to continue the Romeikes’ fight.

II.  Rules: The “rules” (laws and other authoritative acts) applicable to the Romeikes’ case constitute a complex collection of American law, German law, international agreements, and judicial and statutory decisions. 

1. The U.S. Constitution – This is paramount. “The right to homeschool is unquestionably a legitimate application of the basic fundamental rights of the parents under the U.S. Constitution,” and choosing their children’s education has long been so recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925). “. . . the right of religious parents to direct the education of their children is a fundamental right” (Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972).

2.  American state laws – No American state bans homeschooling as does Germany; and “the State Supreme Courts have, without exception, ruled in favor of [homeschooling] parents [in their right to homeschool]. For that reason no case [challenging this right] has gone to the [U.S.] Supreme Court.”

3. American laws concerning immigration and asylum – It is under these rules that the family seeks to remain in this country. As defined by Judge Burman, the core of the Romeike case is whether the family “suffered past persecution, or has . . . a well-founded fear of future persecution in [Germany] on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”  “Persecution” under American law “is widely recognized as the systematic violation of basic human rights demonstrative of a failure of state protection.”  And “prosecution’ becomes ‘persecution’ when the law is prosecuted selectively, penalties are disproportionate to the crime, and the government’s motivations are improper.”

4.  International agreements – These covenants recognize that “religious freedom and the rights of parents are basic human rights.”  Such recognition is accorded by the “International Bill of Rights” – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (1948) (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (“ICCPR”), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) (“ICESCR”). Post-war Germany is a party to both the ICCPR and the ICESCR.

5.  The German law applied to homeschoolers – This law is not motivated by concern for the welfare of the children (and the record is remarkably silent re: evidence that the Romeike children were suffering intellectually, physically, psychologically, or any other way).  Rather, the records show that “animus and vitriol” rooted in the Nazi-era law imposed on the Romeikes and other German religious homeschoolers motivated the current-era anti-religious homeschooling prosecution and persecution by the German government.

III. Analysis and Arguments: Critical propositions supporting the parties to a case, compelled by the application of the above-cited rules to the facts presented. There are multiple, unassailable arguments supporting the granting of the Romeikes’ petition for asylum in the United States. The Romeikes have “a well-founded fear of future persecution” if America deports them to Germany. Although rejected by the Obama administration, the Board of Immigration Review, and the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the following arguments support the Romeikes’ petition for asylum in the United States.

1.  Germany’s forcible break-up of religious homeschool families clearly violates human rights. Religious homeschoolers, including the Romeike family, in Germany are being subjected by the government to a “systematic violation of basic human rights demonstrative of a failure of state protection.” Punishments already suffered by the Romeikes and threatened in the future, plus punishments imposed already on other German homeschoolers, actually result in the governmentally forced breakup of the family unit, which is a per se violation of basic human rights recognized by civilized nations around the world.

2.  German governmental attacks on religious homeschoolers clearly meet the criteria of “persecution,” going beyond the bounds of “prosecution.”

a. The penalties already levied against the Romeikes while still in Germany were disproportionate to their “crime.” Indeed, homeschooling cannot even be defined as a “crime” by any reasonable standard. Yet, two armed police visited the Romeikes after they began homeschooling; later, the “police in force” came to take the children to public schools, which the neighbors blocked. Government officials warned the parents that they would be fined (fines increasing per day, with the Romeikes’ owing about $9,000 when they finally left Germany). The parents were also threatened with losing custody of their children who would then be sent to government schools, and the parents could even be jailed.

b. Germany selectively enforces the law against religious homeschoolers. The Romeikes’ case was not unique or even isolated American court records showed that German homeschoolers have been under fire from the German government since the 1990s and that a number of families have fled Germany in order to avoid these attacks.   Other parents have suffered fines, imprisonment, etc. One especially disturbing case was that of homeschooling student Melissa Busekros, who was placed in an asylum for the mentally ill while she was tested for “school phobia.”

Religious German homeschooling families are subjected to more severe criminal and civil penalties than nonreligious “school skippers – the government discriminates against religious homeschoolers, prosecuting them selectively. Court records reveal that expert witness and German attorney Gabrielle Eckermann specifically stated that “parents of truant children are treated differently than parents who homeschool.” Homeschoolers now are “facing even greater penalties in the wake of (recent German court decisions) ‘which decided that all families who homeschool are to be considered undesirable parallel societies and that (German) society has a legitimate interest in avoiding such.’” “Homeschooling is per se Child endangerment because homeschooling leads to undesirable parallel societies.”

c.   The German government’s motivation(s) in these cases is/are totally illegitimate. The German Federal Constitutional Court attempted in the 2003 Konrad case to justify “encroachment into the basic rights of German homeschoolers, because the state has a “justified” and “rightful” interest in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated ‘parallel societies.” The Court approved the legal coercion of these minorities so that they “do not segregate themselves and that they do not close themselves off to a dialogue with dissenters and people of other beliefs.” Only government-approved schools can further these objectives and achieve the “goal of conveying social and civic competence.”

The alleged purpose of the law also includes supporting “tolerance,” “integration,”  “pluralism,” and a “pluralistic society.” This is a patently and fatally flawed irony. A genuinely “pluralistic culture” ipso facto requires the existence of, and official respect for, “parallel societies” such as the German religious homeschoolers. Furthermore, to deny coercively the right to “separate from society (or its educational system)” to a “parallel group” such as the German religious homeschoolers in order to promote “tolerance” is ipso facto “intolerant” of their differing “social and civic views and values.”

d. Germany’s religious homeschoolers are a “parallel society” (German law term) and a “particular social group” (American law term argued by Romeike opponents to be inapplicable to the family) targeted for persecution by the German government.  This fact is attested to by the German government, German academia, international tribunals and the United Nations, and the organizations/activities/etc. of the German homeschooling community itself. The beliefs which homeschoolers such as the Romeikes are espousing at such a high cost to themselves are clearly religious and in opposition to beliefs taught in the German public schools. The use of the American term here is surely valid since German homeschoolers are clearly a parallel society in Germany.

The protection of religious belief receives the highest protection in the United States – in the U. S. Constitution’s First Amendment. “The principle that government, in pursuit of legitimate interests [and the German government’s interests are NOT even legitimate], cannot in a selective manner impose burdens only on conduct motivated by religious belief . . . .   [This principle] is essential to the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause (Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc., v. Hialeah, 1993).”

IV. Conclusion:  Articulation of the proper outcome of the case, based on the data presented above.

The Uwe Romeike family meets the standards for asylum in the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder and his agencies should grant them that asylum. The decision of the original immigration judge favoring the Romeikes’ petition should be upheld and subsequent decisions to the contrary should be reversed.

This is the least that “tempest-tost” persecution victims such as the Romeikes deserve from the United States, if Lady Liberty’s lamp lifted high “beside the golden door” is to continue to shine. If the Romeike’s petition is ultimately rejected, the “golden door” will be slammed shut, losing its golden luster; and Lady Liberty’s lamp will go dark. The shadows of the Nazi swastika, an iconic reminder of foreign-bred despotism around the world, will lengthen over America.