Family's 'religious convictions' must meet state requirements

Berlin, Germany - The German government, in a throwback to its National Socialist Workers Party heritage, has declared war on homeschool families, promising to bring those with banned "religious convictions" into alignment with the state regulations.

The word comes through the Netz-Bildung Freiheit (Net-Education Freedom) organization in Germany, a coalition of efforts lobbying on behalf of the constitutional right of German parents to have their children's education "conform" to their own religious and philosophical convictions.

The report's English translation on the website includes a very clear declaration, with a followup threat.

A government education official says the government is working to avoid future conflicts over homeschooling with one particular family by looking "for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement."

The issue has U.S. experts on homeschooling very worried.

Michael Farris, cofounder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, has called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protect the right of parents to educate their children at home, in light of what is developing in Europe, and the growing influence of international court conclusions in the U.S.

His concern is that if the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child were ratified by the Senate or adopted by the federal courts as enforceable international law, American homeschooling could be banned.

He notes that the parents' rights to control their children's education never were written into the U.S. Constitution because the Founding Fathers recognized that it was the Bible that gave parents a God-given right to educate their children at home or in a private or government school.

"While the decision noted that some nations in the European Union allow for homeschooling, and while Germany allows for private institutional education, the court made it clear that such allowances are a matter of legislative grace and not founded in principles of protected human rights. … The European court declared that the aim of their Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms includes 'safeguarding pluralism in education which is essential for the preservation of the 'democratic society.' … In view of the power of the modern State, it is above all through State teaching that this aim must be realized. …'" he wrote.

The German declaration and threat came from "K. Horstmann" who was identified as a "Ministerial Director" and was in a note responding to the German education network's letters requesting that consideration be given to one homeschool family whose children had been picked up by police and escorted to the public school.

In that case, as WND reported, children from the Romeike family were forcibly escorted to school in their home town in the state of Baden-Wuerttemburg.

There, the former education minister, Annette Schavan, "had expressly declared that it was not necessary to carry out such acts of force against homeschooling families because '…the children are generally not lacking in any other respects,'" the blog site noted.

In fact, a formal press statement from the government in 2002 said, "We do not use such forcible methods in Baden-Wuerttemberg. It is not in the long-term interests of either the children or the police."

But that, obviously, has changed. The government responded to the lobbying group's request for consideration with a terse statement:

"The Minister of Education does not share your attitudes toward so-called homeschooling and is not prepared to approve a corresponding pilot project," the letter said.

"You complain about the forced school escort of primary school children by the responsible local police officers on the basis of paragraph 86 of the education law as a measure of the execution of authority. It is known to the ministry of education that primary school students can be particularly burdened by the related contradiction between the norms of the parent-house and that of the public school through such forced escorts."

The government letter continued with a solution:

"In order to avoid this in future, the education authority is in conversation with the affected family in order to look for possibilities to bring the religious convictions of the family into line with the unalterable school attendance requirement," the government said.

The government official wasn't finished with just issuing the declaration of war on homeschoolers, either.

"Let me make something clear: the cause of this forced escort was set in place by the parents through their illegal conduct," the letter said.

"The European Court of Human Rights, specifically in complaint number 35504/02, has conclusively decided that through compulsory school attendance in Baden-Wuerttemburg, the affected are not inhibited in their rights from Article 2 of the Supplementary protocol affecting EMRK (right to an education) – alone as well as in conjunction with Article 14 EMRK (anti-discrimination) through the refusal of the educational authorities to make way for the possibility of homeschooling," the letter said.

Further, it warned of actions that could become necessary in the future.

"The education administration in future will also not recognize so-called homeschooling and act in proportionate measure considering the individual case and circumstances."

The blog site interpreter, Dana Hanley, has a degree in education and liberal arts with a major in Germanic languages and literatures, and lived in Germany for several years.

"It is interesting," she noted, "that in a state whose constitution is dominated by religious language and quotes the necessity of building Christian character, as well as guaranteeing the natural right of parents to have a say in the education of their children AND religious freedom, that the state would specifically mention that they are working to 'bring the religious convictions of the family in line' with the goals of the state."

The family whose situation prompted the original letter on their behalf, and the governmental response, lives in Bissingen, and had been home educating their children this year, a practice legal in most of the European Union.

On that October morning, they were confronted by police officials, who, "in an incredibly inconsiderate manner, forced their crying children into a police car and drove them to the school," an earlier report said.

The family had the support of teachers in a distance learning academy, from which they obtained curriculum.

"We condemn the degrading act carried out by the police as a blatant breach of the personal rights of individual family members and call for the Mayor of Bissingen, as well as the Office for Education of the District Authorities of Esslingen, to end these sanctions," the lobbying group said at that time.

Such mandatory public school attendance, and the accompanying procedures to physically escort children to schools, were legalized under the Nazis in 1938. Hitler was concerned at that time about having children grow up with perspectives that were not approved by the state.

The American blog noted that several other homeschooling parents recently have been fined or imprisoned for brief jail terms in Germany for teaching their children at home.

The blog reported that one mother spending a few days in jail for providing homeschooling for her child "ended up leading a Bible study for women who have begged her to come back."

It reported another family was fined $2,250 and members were being attacked emotionally so that the father had a nervous breakdown that landed him in a hospital. The family put their two children in a public school "but it was so awful, they pulled them out again … and put them in a public Catholic school."

It also contained reports that Waldemar Block, the father of nine, was arrested at his work this fall and jailed for 13 days, while Olga Block, his sister-in-law, was jailed for 10 days for not paying fines after she sent her children to a Christian school in Heidelberg.

The HSLDA, the largest homeschooling group in the U.S. with more than 80,000 families, also has been working to raise attention in the international community to the plight of German homeschoolers, including several families in the Baden-Wurttemberg region.

The HSLDA said its campaign to address persecution of homeschoolers, who mostly are Christians, in Germany was triggered after a mother was arrested and jailed on criminal homeschooling counts.

In that case, according to a report in the Brussels Journal, Katharina Plett was arrested and ordered to jail while her husband fled to Austria with the family's 12 children.

The European Human Rights Court ruling the government official cited came down earlier this year, and affirmed the German nation's ban on homeschooling.

The Strasburg-based court addressed the issue on appeal from a Christian family whose members alleged their human rights to educate their own children according to their own religious beliefs are being violated by the ban.

The specific case addressed in the opinion involved Fritz and Marianna Konrad, who filed the complaint in 2003 and argued that Germany's compulsory school attendance endangered their children's religious upbringing and promotes teaching inconsistent with the family's Christian faith.

The court said the Konrads belong to a "Christian community which is strongly attached to the Bible" and rejected public schooling because of the explicit sexual indoctrination programs that the courses there include.

The German court already had ruled that the parental "wish" to have their children grow up in a home without such influences "could not take priority over compulsory school attendance." The decision also said the parents do not have an "exclusive" right to lead their children's education.

The family had appealed under the European Convention on Human Rights statement that: "No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions."

But the court's ruling said, instead, that schools represent society, and "it was in the children's interest to become part of that society.

"The parents' right to education did not go as far as to deprive their children of that experience," the ruling said.

WND also reported recently that a German judicial official believes pesky religious rights in Germany need to be limited.

Brigitte Zypries, who serves as the German federal minister of justice, told ASSIST News Service that the nation "should not place any behavior under the protection of this important basic right."

The 53-year-old said court rulings have produced "a kind of freedom for all sorts of behavior" and those need to be specifically defined.

She also challenged churches' involvement in religious instruction in schools, saying they cannot simply be allowed to claim a monopoly on teaching values.

Subjects like ethics, law – and of course politics – also could be used to teach values, she noted.