The Story: A European court ruled that German authorities are allowed to forcibly remove children from their home if the parents homeschool. Could that happen in the United States?
The Background: On Thursday, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Germany’s ban on homeschooling did not violate a family’s fundamental rights. Germany is one of the few European countries that penalizes families who want to homeschool.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom International, more than 30 police officers and social workers stormed the home of the Wunderlich family in August 2013. The authorities brutally removed the children from their parents and their home, leaving the family traumatized. The children were ultimately returned to their parents, but their legal status remained unclear. After courts in Germany ruled in favor of the government, the European Court of Human Rights agreed to take up the case in August 2016. The family still has the option of bringing the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, the highest level of the court.
“This ruling ignores the fact that Germany’s policy on homeschooling violates the rights of parents to educate their children and direct their upbringing. It is alarming to see that this was not recognized by the most influential human rights court in Europe. This ruling is a step in the wrong direction and should concern anyone who cares about freedom,” said Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International.
“This judgement is a huge setback, but we will not give up the fight to protect the fundamental right of parents to homeschool their children in Germany and across Europe,” added Mike Donnelly, international homeschooling expert and director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association.
The Wunderlichs have only been given partial custody and must send their children to a government-approved education program.
Why It Matters: Although this case is in Europe, it’s a reminder of how fragile parental rights are in America.
In 2010, a U.S. immigration judge granted political asylum to a German family who fled to America because, like the Wunderlichs, they were unable to homeschool their children. The judge ruled they had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs if they returned to their homeland. The judge also denounced the German policy, saying it was, “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.”
President Obama’s Justice Department disagreed, and argued that the family should be denied asylum based on their contention that governments may legitimately use its authority to force parents to send their kids to government-sanctioned schools. On appeal the the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the Justice Department and denied the asylum:
The German law does not on its face single out any protected group, and the Romeikes have not provided sufficient evidence to show that the law’s application turns on prohibited classifications or animus based on any prohibited ground. For these reasons, we deny the Romeikes’ petition.
As many Western nations have made clear, parents are not a “protected group.”
Our duties and rights as parents are circumscribed by the cultural norms of the secular public. This is true even in the United States, as late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly warned us.
For example, in November 2015 Justice Scalia told an audience at Georgetown University Law Center that there is no U.S. constitutional right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children. Although Scalia believed the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children is among the “unalienable rights” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, it is not a right necessarily protected by the Constitution, since many “important rights are not contained there.”
“For example, my right to raise my children the way I want,” Scalia said. “To teach them what I want them taught, not what Big Brother says. That is not there.”
As I noted last year, a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States last year relating to parental rights is pending in the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.
Most Christian parents have not even heard of this bill, much less asked their legislators to advance its passage. Because so few of us know about it, the legislation will likely continue to languish and be forgotten—only to be dusted off after a Supreme Court ruling further jeopardizes parental rights. Unfortunately, by then it may be too late. A Supreme Court ruling undermining parental rights would make it nearly impossible to pass such an amendment in the future.
We didn’t heed Justice Scalia’s warning before his death. But we still have an opportunity to protect the rights of parents before the court decides the state, rather than parents, should decide what’s best for our children.