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 of the rules," he said.
If the National Board of Immigration Appeals rules in favor of the Romeikes, it could sharpen U.S. policy on religious freedom, said Berg. The U.S. would have to recognize that persecution can happen even under a law that does not target religions.
"I think this case shows again that you can have persecution under a generally applicable law," he said. "Does it really matter to the Romeikes that their children are being taken away from them under a general law about homeschooling—[one that doesn't] single out religious reasons? Even generally applicable laws can be the impetus for imposing real suffering on people for their religious beliefs."
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Previous coverage of the Romeike family includes:
Judge Grants Asylum to German Home Schoolers | The parents, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, want to home-school their five children, ranging in age from 2 to 12, a practice illegal in their native land, Germany. (The New York Times)
German Family Get Political U.S. Asylum After Claims of Persecution in Germany Over Home Schooling | Children in Germany are Required by Law to Attend Public or Private School. (ABC)
US grants home schooling German family political asylum | Couple who fled to Tennessee fearing persecution for keeping their children out of school win first case of its kind in US. (The Guardian)