As a homeschooling mom, I think this decision is a good thing. People whose religious beliefs are being actively undermined by the so-called "neutral" secular state via government schools and by the encroaching of that secular state into religious schools as well have legitimate reasons to seek alternative methods of education. When not only the state schools, but all schools that are legally allowed to operate (e.g., all schools), attack parental rights, childhood innocence, religious beliefs, moral teachings, and other key aspects of a child's upbringing then the compact between the state and the parent for the state to take over some part of the parent's teaching role is irreparably broken. And when the state uses its corporate power to punish parents who wish to withdraw from this broken compact, you have the beginnings of a totalitarian reality in the realm of education.
The reasoning behind the German law, cited by officials and in court cases, is to foster social integration, ensure exposure to people from different backgrounds and prevent what some call “parallel societies.”
“We have had this legal basis ever since the state was founded,” said Thomas Hilsenbeck, a spokesman for the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sport in the Romeikes’ state, Baden-Württemberg. “This is broadly accepted among the general public.”
The family has been here for some time, having left Germany in 2008. But it was not until Jan. 26 that a federal immigration judge in Memphis granted them political asylum, ruling that they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned.
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.
Which is why I couldn't disagree more with Mark Krikorian's take on this:
The NY Times writes about a family from Germany which has received asylum in the U.S. because homeschooling is prohibited in their country. This is yet another example of misuse of asylum, as we see our domestic culture wars bleed over into asylum policy; first it was feminists and homosexual-rights campaigners, then disabilities-rights activists, and now homeschoolers.
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? Or how about the English butcher who couldn't sell his meat in pounds rather than kilos?
Krikorian's comparison between homeschooling parents and a French worker or English butcher doesn't hold up at all. The Frenchman can, at worst, lose his job, or the Englishman his business--but the German homeschooling parents face the real prospect of losing their children to the state if they refuse to permit the state to, in their view, damage the souls of their children.
The right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their own children is a fundamental human right, one which precedes the existence of the state. Children are not the property of any state to do with as they like--we would find such an idea abhorrent. Yet that is the reality that many parents around the world are now facing, that the modern secular state sees children as individuals primarily belonging to wider society, and only secondarily and incidentally connected to their blood-relatives at all.
The parent who believes that he stands before God charged with the moral education of his children can't simply hand them over to the corrupting influence of the modern secular school with an unconcerned shrug; he believes that he will be asked to give an account of himself before the Almighty someday, and that the decisions he made in regard to his children's upbringing will be among the many topics of that conversation. It is one thing (though, in my view, a lamentable thing) that the secular state has decided that such deeply-held and ancient religious beliefs are so much airy nonsense not worth a moment's consideration; it is quite another for the state to, in effect, forbid parents to act on beliefs like these.
I hope the Romeikes' ability to stay in America will not be overturned on an appeal from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. Their quest to be able to teach their children according to their own beliefs, after all, has parallels to the situations of many of our ancestors, who came to America fleeing religious persecution, and wanted only to be able to raise and educate their children according to their own deeply-held religious principles. They, too, were facing hostility and oppression in their home countries. They, too, were breaking the law if they sought to teach their children their faith. But they had the courage to come here and start anew, and we, their children, would be remiss to turn up our noses at families facing a surprisingly similar crisis in our modern age.