Is Homeschooling a Human Right?

ABCs

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 10, 2013.

If you are a parent, do you believe you have the right to decide how and where your child will be educated? This is an issue that has been brought up recently by a German family who was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2008 after being persecuted in their country for homeschooling, but now they are fighting deportation after that decision was overturned.

The Romeikes’ are an Evangelical Christian family who wants to homeschool their six children, but German law prohibits homeschooling. They have been charged with $9,000 in fines, and at one point authorities came to their home to forcibly take their children to public school.

On February 11, 2013, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) posted a news release by Michael Farris, J.D., LL.M., HSLDA Founder and Chairman, titled “German Homeschool Case May Impact U.S. Homeschool Freedom,” and since that time, many offshoots of that article have made it into (mostly) conservative news media outlets.

The HSLDA is a nonprofit organization that defends homeschoolers’ rights and family freedoms. It’s a very conservative organization, and not all homeschoolers agree with every stance they take, but they have done a lot of work to defend the rights of many homeschoolers.

Their news release states, “The U.S. law of asylum allows a refugee to stay in the United States permanently if he can show that he is being persecuted for one of several specific reasons. Among these are persecution for religious reasons and persecution of a ‘particular social group.’”

Later, Farris writes, “But my goal today is to not belabor the nature of German repression of homeschooling; rather I seek to reveal the view of the United States government to all of this.” He says that while the U.S. argued many things in their brief, there were three specific arguments we should know about.

  1. No one’s rights were violated because the German law bans homeschooling for everybody and not for select people.
  2. The Romeikes’ case failed to show that there was discrimination based on religion because they couldn’t prove that all homeschoolers were Christian or that all Christian homeschoolers believe they have to homeschool.
  3. The U.S. government says that Germany’s ban on homeschooling does not meet the standard of belonging to a particular social group because the family can stop homeschooling and put their kids into public school at any time.

Farris concludes his press release by stating, “When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice—they are saying that it is a characteristic that a government can legitimately coerce you to change. In other words, you have no protected right to choose the education for your children.”

In an article on ABCnews.go.com titled, “Home Schooling German Family Fights Deportation” writer Ben Waldron got a quote from Karla McKanders, an asylum and refugee law specialist at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Among other things she says “that immigration officials may be wary of setting a precedent that establishes homeschooling as a means for asylum. ‘They don’t want to open up the floodgates for similar asylum claims based on these grounds,’ she said.”

An article in the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail quotes Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.  He said he could not talk about any specific asylum case, but that the basis for any asylum grant is that “They have to claim that their government can’t protect them from persecution because they’re part of a specific group.” Are homeschoolers a specific group? That’s a hard one.

Of course, I hate to see this family forced to return home to exorbitant fines, prosecution and to possibly have their children removed from their custody. Every parent has the right to educate their children as they see fit whether or not I agree with how or what they teach.

But the greater question here is what Farris and many other media outlets claim to be a threat to our American rights to choose the education of our children. Is this case telling us that we should be concerned that our rights could be taken away? I would be curious to hear from a variety of homeschoolers. What do you think?

Note: If you’re interested in helping the Romeike family, the HSLDA has started a White House petition to stop their deportation. They need 100,000 signatures by April 18th in order to get a response from the White House. You can find out how to do that here: http://www.hslda.org/legal/cases/romeike/petition.asp

[They received the 100,000 signatures that they needed yesterday! Read more here.]

And I do hope you’ll comment here and share this with other homeschoolers. I really want to hear from a variety of homeschoolers.