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Romeikes As Canaries In Coal Mines

Michael Farris of the activist Homeschool Legal Defense Association writes about the case of the Romeike family, German homeschoolers who fled their country to the US after facing potential jail time and confiscation of their property for defying Germany’s strict ban on homeschooling. The Romeike case is now in the US courts, with the Obama Administration taking sides against the family; if the Justice Department prevails, the Romeikes will be sent back to Germany. Farris writes:

The prospect for German homeschooling freedom is not bright. But we should not reserve all of our concern for the views of the German government. Our own government is attempting to send German homeschoolers back to that land to face criminal prosecutions with fines, jail sentences, and removal of custody of children.

We should understand that in these arguments by the U.S. government, something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers.

The Attorney General of the United States thinks that a law that bans homeschooling entirely violates no fundamental liberties.

You might say, “Well, Farris is an activist, and so he’s naturally overstating things.” I wouldn’t be too sure. Here’s Joseph Knippenberg, writing about the Romeike case at First Things. He begins by taking issue with one aspect of the Justice Department’s stated case for opposing the Romeikes’ asylum petition:

This is a common argument on behalf of public education that assumes (wrongly, I think) that a certain kind of pluralism will be fostered by having everyone learn the same thing at the same time in the same place. This is not an education in tolerating differences, but rather one in homogeneity. I suppose that I shouldn’t expect Justice Department attorneys to be cognizant of the rich theoretical literature here, but it displays (how shall we say?) a tin ear regarding the concerns of religious minorities in a pluralistic society. (I expect nothing else from the Obama Administration.)

Let me state the matter another way: The German government’s position is defensible, so long as one is willing to sacrifice the rights of conscience and the rights of parents on the altar of social solidarity and false toleration.

Knippenberg continues:

Perhaps they simply don’t want to open the gates to a flood of German families seeking to escape the oppressive Geman Bildungsstaat, and they’ll avail themselves of any argument that will keep those pesky homeschoolers out. I’d be more imprssed by their narrow legalism if they took the time to denounce Germany’s highhandedness toward homeschooling parents (which for a time merited a rather neutral reference in State Department human rights and relgiious freedom reports, but which seems to have fallen off the radar).

But with Farris, Nazworth, and Carter, I worry about what the future holds in my country. I’ve seen my share of liberal elite hostility toward homeschooling. I can at least conceive the possibility that a state might seek to regulate it out of existence. And if that happened, I don’t see the Obama Administration on the front lines, citing either the various international covenants or Meyer v. Nebraska in defense of the rights of parents.

My hope is that as homeschooling becomes more popular, and as liberal and/or secular parents keep discovering that it is a viable solution for some of them, that there will be bipartisan opposition to any government move to quash homeschooling. Still, it is hard to imagine a Romney Justice Department taking this tack with the Romeikes. This kind of thing is why, had my state not been in the bag for Romney last November, I would probably have held my nose and voted Republican instead of withholding my presidential vote.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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