A German homeschool family denied a Supreme court review for their deportation case this past week will be allowed to stay in the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. But the question their case raises, and the answer posed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder present major concerns for homeschooling families across the nation.
“The position of the Obama administration is that the right to home school is not part of the First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom in our Constitution,” wrote Ken Blackwell, with the Family Research Council in a recent column. “The Romeikes’ fight is our fight, too… We must recognize that homeschoolers defend religious freedom for all of us — whether we home school our children or not. If they can be crushed, we will see parents’ rights and First Amendment rights hollowed out.”
The Romeikes’ battle began more than six years ago in Germany when, because their Christian beliefs conflicted with what their children were being taught, they began schooling them at home and, as a result, became a target for frequent persecution at the hands of the government. Beyond fines of some $10,000 and threats of jail time, the family risked losing custody of their children, who were forcibly removed from their home and taken to a public school by police.
Seeking political asylum, the family came to the United States in 2008 with the help of the Home School Legal Defense Association. But the federal government appealed the decision to grant them asylum and the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled against the Romeikes as did the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which led HSLDA to ask the Supreme Court to take up the case.
Michael Farris, who chairs the organization, was not shocked that the High Court refused to entertain the case since it accepts only about one percent of the 10,000 or so requests for hearings it receives each year, but he was pleasantly surprised when DHS granted the family “indefinite deferred status.”
“This is an incredible victory that I can only credit to Almighty God,” Farris told the media Tuesday. “I also want to thank those who spoke up on this issue — including the long ago White House petition. We believe the public outcry made a huge impact.”
The concern that led to that public outcry remains high, especially among those who teach their children at home. While states such as North Carolina have statutes specifically legalizing home schooling, having the federal government wage a legal battle against parents’ rights to follow the same path in other nations makes homeschoolers in the U.S. wonder how long their own freedom will remain.
“Some of the legal arguments crafted by our government against parental rights in this case are disturbing to say the least,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
For instance, the U.S. Justice Department argues that Germany’s goal of an “open, pluralistic society” makes it perfectly reasonable for the country to force the children of religious minorities to attend public school.
“Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen of Germany,” the DOJ brief states. It also contends that the “propriety of homeschooling versus schooling in a public or private school” is a judgment “properly left to the political branches of government.”
Dr. Creech printed out the obvious hypocrisy of teaching tolerance by refusing to tolerate the views of families who may disagree with the ideology being pushed in government schools.
“There is nothing pluralistic or open about forcing mothers and fathers to send their children to a place where the families’ views are not respected,” he said. “Further, this idea that the government should have the final say in how a child is educated — publicly, privately or at home — is supplanting the parents altogether.”
“Hearing straight from the office of our own Attorney General that parents have no fundamental right to determine the education of their own children is chilling,” Dr. Creech added. “If it’s OK for Germany to run roughshod over families in the name of diversity and multiculturalism, how long before the same tactics get the DOJ stamp of approval when carried out in America?”
That’s the question on the minds of many in the Tar Heel State, where more than 53,000 families school their children — an estimated 88,000 students — at home. Homeschooling was officially sanctioned by the state in 1988 and has grown exponentially since, with the number of homeschools more than doubling in the past decade. More than 63 percent of the schools identify themselves as religious.
“The actions and reasoning of U.S. government agencies in dealing with the Romeikes should be troubling to all homeschoolers,” said Spencer Mason, legislative vice president of North Carolinians for Home Education. “However, I don’t think the positions taken by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the DOJ are immediate threats to North Carolina homeschoolers, and the decisions by the Sixth Circuit don’t affect citizens of North Carolina.”
He said courts across the United States have recognized and readily affirmed parents’ Fourteenth Amendment right “to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control,” but cautioned that there is a growing trend for judges to employ international law in court decisions, a trend that could threaten parental rights.
“The current makeup of the N.C. General Assembly and the N.C. Supreme Court oppose this trend, so I don’t think there is a threat to the homeschool freedoms from our current elected North Carolina officials,” Mason added. However, he also warned that this could all change with the next election cycle.
“It is important that homeschoolers learn about the candidate’s position and voting records before they go to the polls,” Mason said. He said a more viable threat to parents’ rights is the possibility of U.S. district and appellate judges overruling our state Legislature and court system and suggested the proposed Parent Rights Amendment as an effective defense. To find out more about the bill, log onto www.parentalrights.org.
Like many others, Mason believes God played a role in the DHS decision to allow the Romeikes to stay in the U.S.
“The family was the first social institution created by God, and homeschoolers experience family life in a special, more intimate way,” Mason said. “I believe God is protecting the homeschooling movement in an extraordinary way.”
“The decision by the N.C. Supreme Court in the Delconte case in 1985 favoring home education, the passage of a homeschool law in 1988 with few restrictions and the unanimous votes in the House and Senate in 2013 to give homeschool parents more freedom to get help outside of the home are evidences of God’s provision here in North Carolina,” he added.
Mason also believes the avalanche of calls, e-mails and letters that followed the Romeike petition, as homeschoolers contacted congressman on the family’s behalf, helped change their deportation status.
“Even though we are small in number, homeschoolers have a voice,” he said. “…I believe the powers that be at the DOJ saw that this was not an issue they would win in the eyes of the American public.”
Farris called the Romeikes “modern day Pilgrims.”
Uwe Romeike released the following statement after being informed that the Department of Homeland Security would not deport his family as long as they check in routinely with DHS and do not commit a crime.
“We have always been ready to go wherever the Lord would lead us…. Our entire family is deeply grateful for all the support of our friends and fellow homeschoolers and especially HSLDA. I thank God for his hand of blessing and protection over our family. We thank the American government for allowing us to stay here and to peacefully homeschool our children — it’s all we ever wanted.”