European homeschool ruling 'ignores' parents' rights

Germany's prohibition of home education does not violate the rights of the Wunderlichs, a German family that homeschools its four children, according to the European Court of Human Rights.
ADF International photo.
STRASBOURG, France (BP) -- A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling to uphold Germany's homeschool prohibition has been called a matter of concern for "anyone who cares about freedom."

The ECHR, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled Jan. 10 that Dirk and Petra Wunderlich's human rights were not violated when German officials forcibly removed their four children from the family home near Darmstadt, Germany, for three weeks in 2013. At issue was the Wunderlichs' refusal to stop homeschooling.

A German court previously determined the children's level of education "was not alarming" and they did not face a risk of physical harm at home, according to the ECHR's ruling. Still, the Wunderlichs have no right to homeschool under the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR said.

Paul Coleman, executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International, a legal organization that represents the Wunderlichs, said the ruling "ignores the fact that Germany's policy on homeschooling violates the rights of parents to educate their children and direct their upbringing.

"It is alarming to see that this was not recognized by the most influential human rights court in Europe," Coleman said according to an ADF release. "This ruling is a step in the wrong direction and should concern anyone who cares about freedom."

The Wunderlichs may appeal to the ECHR's Grand Chamber, the court's highest level, their ADF International attorney Robert Clarke said.

Germany argues children must attend school to learn "tolerance" and how "to hold fast to their convictions against majority views," Clarke told The World and Everything in It podcast. Yet the ECHR's ruling suggests "the government is allowed to be utterly intolerant" and that "if you stand fast to your convictions against majority-held views, then your house is going to get surrounded by police officers and your children are going to get taken away."

Germany "really stands alone" among European nations in its level of resistance to homeschooling, Clarke said.

In a related case, the Romeike family fled Germany for the U.S. in 2008 amid mounting fines and risk of losing custody of homeschooled children. The Romeikes requested asylum in the U.S. and lost their court battle, but in 2014 the Department of Homeland Security allowed them to remain in the country.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Germany's homeschooling prohibition, according to DW.com, Germany's public international broadcast service. The only exceptions are for severe illness, children of diplomats and working children like child actors. Between 500-1,000 German families are believed to be homeschooling.

In the U.S., the federal Department of Education estimates there are more than 2 million homeschool students. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) reports varying levels of regulation among U.S. states and claims homeschool families occasionally face unjust harassment from government authorities.

In December, a Massachusetts mother filed a lawsuit claiming law enforcement officers handcuffed her and took her to the police station over her decision to homeschool her son, Boston's WBUR radio reported.

In Puerto Rico, a mother's decision to homeschool her four youngest children eventuated in a court order to remove them from her home, HSLDA reported in November. Eventually, the mother was cleared of wrongdoing and the case was resolved without removal of the children.

When the Wunderlichs appealed their case to the ECHR in April, HSLDA's Mike Donnelly said, "Human rights experts at the UN and scholars worldwide have found that home education is a natural, fundamental and protected human right."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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