CINCINNATI A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati was told Tuesday, April 23, that a German family should be granted asylum in the U.S. because their native government is denying them a fundamental human right by preventing them from homeschooling their children.
But the judges suggested that they may not grant asylum, arguing that mistreatment by the German government is not tantamount to persecution and not necessarily a ground for allowing the family to remain in America.
The family, devout Christians Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their five children, fled Germany in 2008 after facing heavy fines and the threat of losing custody of the children unless they attended school. The Romeikes have since had a sixth child and expect a seventh in June. They were granted asylum by an immigration judge in 2010, but the Obama administration appealed the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals and won.
Michael Farris, chairman of the Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association, said that it is illogical for the administration to oppose the Romeikes' request for asylum.
"It makes no sense to me why the Obama administration wants to send a German homeschool family home while they are so lenient to so many others," Farris said in an interview. "There is no rational explanation in my judgment. Forget the legal arguments. Legal arguments are debatable, but the political assessment just makes no sense at all."
Farris told the justices that the German government's anti-homeschool bias rises to the level of persecution in part because the "degree of punishment is so severe" removal of the children from their home unless they are placed in a public or private school.
The approximately 500 homeschooling families in Germany are also persecuted, Farris argued, because they are denied what the United Nations has deemed a fundamental human right the right of parents to direct their children's education.
Judge Jeffrey Sutton countered that Germany is not prohibiting parents' direction of their children's education. Parents may teach their children during non-school hours, Sutton said, instilling in them any worldview they choose.
Judge John Rogers added that receiving punishment for failing to comply with a law not supported by the U.S. is not always ground for asylum.
Regarding the Romeikes' faith, Sutton said it is not clear that anti-Christian bias is among the reasons for Germany's policy against homeschooling. Judge Ronald Gilman said teaching "tolerance" is one reason for the German government's insistence on school attendance.
Farris countered, "If that's tolerance, it's a tolerance unknown to a free society."
Government attorney Walter Bocchini seemed to grant that directing their children's education is a fundamental right of parents. But he said a foreign government's violation of its citizens' rights is not a reason for granting asylum unless the violation stems from intent to persecute a specific group.
When questioned by the judges, Bocchini said the Romeikes would not be eligible to apply for citizenship if they lose this case because they would be under an "order of removal." The Romeikes' next option would be to ask the Department of Homeland Security not to enforce the deportation order.
Sutton expressed appreciation for the Romeikes' honesty about their presence in the country and their desire for legal residency. They are "a group of people that was being very straight up" and "not playing games," he said.
The court likely will not render a decision for several weeks.
"It's the parents' right to direct the education of their children," Farris told BP. Homeschooling "is a valid application of that right. ... Parents have the right to teach what they want and avoid what they want."
Sutton and Rogers were nominated by President George W. Bush, Gilman by President Clinton.