The German government forcibly seized four children from their parents in a raid last Thursday in Darmstadt, Germany. Why? Because the Wunderlich children were home schooled – an illegal activity viewed by the German government as “child endangerment.”
Reports by World Net Daily and The Daily Mail said the police were armed with a battering ram, and held father Dirk Wunderlich to a chair while they removed the children. A team of 20 social workers, police, and special agents entered the home. According to a report by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), an organization that advocates for parental choice in education, the children were taken to unknown locations and officials told the parents they would not be seeing their children “anytime soon.”
In a phone interview, Wunderlich called the episode a “nightmare.” He said that for several days, he has felt “very down and crushed,” but is trusting that “this terrible thing is one piece in God’s big plan.”
Michael Donnelly, lawyer for HSLDA, said, “This shouldn’t happen in Germany. This is a very peaceful family.”
Not only did the German government seize the children – they seized the children’s passports as well. This prevents the family from attempting to move to another country where homeschooling is permissible. According to Wunderlich, the children could be taken from them permanently if they made such an attempt. “Our children are prisoners of the German government,” he said.
The Wunderlich family has been trying to homeschool their family legally for years, and attempted moving to other countries with greater educational freedoms. Although they found refuge in France, Mr. Wunderlich was unable to find a job. They had to return to Germany.
For the Wunderlichs, homeschooling is preferable for both religious and educational reasons. Wunderlich believes school can be a rather “artificial place for learning.” Via homeschooling, their children can immediately pursue and study specific interests. He also believes homeschooling has bolstered family relationships. But living in Germany has been hard for them. There are few homeschooling families in Germany. “In America, it’s perfect,” Wunderlich said. “But here in Germany, most parents are alone … if people were gentle and nice, it would be better, but society and authorities are against homeschoolers.”
German law states children must attend school from age six to 18. Homeschooling is not permissible. Two German Supreme Court rulings on the subject have given the state equal authority as parents over children’s education. The law is meant to ensure children receive the appropriate socialization, Donnelly said.
But according to Donnelly and other homeschooling advocates at HSLDA, this law is in direct contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Germany has signed. The ICCPR gives the following permissions to parents: “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.” This parental liberty, Donnelly says, includes the right to homeschool.
In addition, Germany has signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which says states party to the covenant “undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents … to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.”
However, Germany is also party to the European Union Convention on Human Rights: a document less sympathetic toward parental choice. The European Court of Human Rights ruled against a German homeschooling family in the 2006 Konrad case, after the parents petitioned for the ability to homeschool their children.
The Wunderlich’s lawyers will argue their case on the basis that the current education law is too vague. They are also arguing on the basis of the international treaties Germany has signed, since they appear to be violating those treaty obligations. HSLDA is helping support the Wunderlich’s lawyers on the ground, raising funds for their legal defense and bolstering awareness for their case. Although the Wunderlichs are hoping for a court date in September, they are still waiting.
Mr. and Mrs. Wunderlich have had no contact with their children since the raid one week ago.
Germany is a liberal democracy. Yet the actions of the state in this instance are antithetical to democratic government. The raid seems overtly harsh towards a family that—the state has already acknowledged—treats their children well. There are no allegations of abuse or neglect. According to HSLDA, the government hasn’t even claimed that the parents are providing an inadequate education.
Although the government should have the ability to monitor a child’s education, it should not control it entirely. Parental freedom and choice are also necessary and important factors in the equation—especially when a family’s ethical and religious convictions are involved. Without such educational freedoms, children truly become “prisoners of the state” and its teaching methods.