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A German Christian family received asylum in Tennessee after being severely penalized for illegally homeschooling their children in Germany.

While private and public schools are allowed in Germany, homeschooling is not. The Romeike family was threatened on multiple occasions, fined about $10,000, and had three children forcibly removed from home and driven to school by police, according to the brief.

The January decision marks the first time the United States has granted asylum over homeschooling restrictions. While the German government was not motivated by religion to persecute the Romeikes, it was frustrating the family's faith, said judge Lawrence Burman.

The case, on appeal, may set legal precedent, as well as prompt similar cases from Western Europe.

"The definition of what is harming your child is changing [to include] exposing them to religious beliefs or religious rituals like circumcision," said Eric Rassbach, national litigation director for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "Europeans are used to a much more intrusive state, so … nontraditional or minority religious groups [face] a severe lack of understanding on the part of the authorities."

Thomas Berg, a religious freedom expert at University of St. Thomas School of Law, agreed.

"This is something you see more and more of in Europe," he said. But laws in the U.S. also were once unfriendly to homeschooling, he said.

American families arguing for a constitutional right to homeschool lost often in federal courts in the 1970s and 1980s, but took their cases to state legislatures and won protection there, said Berg. "I wonder whether the same dynamic will happen [in Europe], where when people who are good parents suffer, it leads to a relaxation of the stringency ...

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In the Magazine

May 2010

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