The United States Department of Justice has taken a strong stand against homeschooling. Justice Department lawyers successfully argued for a court to overturn a grant of asylum for a German Christian family that wanted to homeschool.
The case involves Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their five children. The Romeikes are evangelical Christians who withdrew their children from schools in Baden-Wuttenberg and started to home school. They ran afoul of local authorities because homeschooling is illegal in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Romeikes moved to Tennessee and applied for political asylum in the U.S. so they could home school their children according to their Christian beliefs.
Uncle Sam Wants Home Schoolers Deported
An immigration judge in Tennessee ruled in the Romeikes’ favor, but the Justice Department appealed the case to the Board of Immigration appeals, which overturned the asylum grant. The Romeikes then appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which just ruled in the federal government’s favor.
The Circuit judges concluded that the Romeikes were not victims of religious or political persecution because the German government treats all children equally. It found that the Romeikes do not deserve asylum because they were not persecuted because of their religion. Instead, they merely violated a compulsory attendance law.
If upper courts uphold this ruling, the Romeikes might be deported to Germany. Without an asylum ruling, their legal status is unclear. It also isn’t clear if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would actually try to deport the Romeikes. There’s a good chance that ICE will simply ignore the case because it is politically controversial.
A Disturbing Precedent
The decision on the Romeikes doesn’t necessarily affect U.S. citizens that are home schooling, but their case does demonstrate a strong bias against homeschoolers and the idea of homeschooling in the Justice Department and the federal courts. Written arguments in the case by Justice Department attorneys are particularly bothersome because they present reasoning that could become the basis for a rationale for a federal assault on home schooling.
Justice Department documents claimed that the Romeikes were not Christians because they did not belong to what lawyers considered an “established Christian sect,” the Associated Press reported. Worse, the lawyers claimed the Romeikes’ arguments against government schooling were “vague.”
This argument is bothersome because it sounds as if the Justice Department is trying to dictate what constitutes a “Christian church” or not. That is a clear violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. The argument against vague beliefs could be used against any sort of evangelical or Pentecostal Christian, anybody that goes to a nondenominational church, and even some non-Christians, such as Buddhists or Muslims that have “vague” beliefs.
What the Justice Department seems to be arguing here is that fundamentalist or evangelical Christian churches are not legitimate churches. Taken to its logical conclusion, it would mean that members of those churches wouldn’t have the same rights as everybody else. The government would have a pretext to violate their rights, particularly for a good cause such as educating children.
Is Justice Department Preparing for an Assault on Homeschooling?
This line of thinking from the Justice Department is disturbing because it sounds as if somebody in it is developing or trying to develop a legal pretext for an argument against homeschooling. Perhaps they are trying to get a legal pretext to extend No Child Left Behind testing to homeschoolers. Then they could force the homeschooled kids that flunk the test to go to public school.
It wouldn’t be hard to write a test that homeschooled children might flunk. One way to do it would be to add questions about evolution or a politically correct version of American history—two subjects that homeschoolers probably would not teach their kids.
Another possibility is that the Justice Department is using the Romeikes as a test case to see what the federal judiciary’s attitude about homeschooling is. The lawyers might want to see if the courts will rule in their favor before taking action against homeschoolers or states or school districts that allow home schooling.
If that’s the case, homeschoolers should be worried because the rulings from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals show little sympathy for homeschooling. The Sixth Court’s ruling clearly showed that the justices think that compulsory attendance laws are legitimate and that using such laws to force believers to attend government schools is not discrimination.
It isn’t hard to imagine the same court upholding a state or federal law banning homeschooling. The Justice Department might be building a legal framework to justify an organized effort to ban or severely regulate homeschooling. The judges on one of the nation’s circuit courts seem to be sympathetic to such efforts.
Is an Assault on Homeschooling Coming?
The Obama administration has not made any public stance on homeschooling, although it is close to the teachers’ unions, which strongly oppose the practice. Yet somebody in the Justice Department, probably Attorney General Eric Holder, had to sign off on the efforts to deport the Romeikes and test the court attitudes about homeschooling. The Home School Legal Defense Association, an advocacy group for homeschoolers, has alleged that Holder believes there is no right to homeschooling.
Federal officials might have concluded that the political climate is changing against cultural conservatives and Christians. After all, the recent successes of the gay marriage movement exposed the Religious Right as a paper tiger with no political power. Hostility towards Christians and people of faith is growing in some quarters. Organized secularism has made a strong comeback with movements like the Brights.
The secularists take their cue from the French Revolution, which transformed schools into indoctrination centers designed to impart state values on children. One of their main arguments is that all children must be educated in government schools to prevent values counter to official beliefs from developing.
In 2003 the German Supreme Court ruled in favor of compulsory school attendance and against homeschooling in a case that could be used against Americans. The court found that compulsory attendance laws served a legitimate government interest, namely counteracting the development of parallel societies. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals seemed to find nothing wrong with this reasoning.
Preparing a Case Against Homeschooling
It looks like the Justice Department is preparing a case against homeschooling. We should be prepared for more efforts to ban homeschooling or at least severely restrict it.
The effort might start by targeting homeschool families who education officials believe are not properly educating their children. One tactic they might use is to find some really bad homeschooled families, say fanatics that are physically abusing or neglecting their children, and try to claim that is how all homeschoolers behave. Get worried if you start seeing a lot of horror stories about abusive homeschoolers in the media. This could then be used to rally support for a widespread effort to force all homeschooled kids back into the public schools.
Those that support homeschooling should get worried and start supporting the efforts of groups like the Home School Legal Defense Association. The only thing that might stop a large-scale federal assault on homeschooling in the next few years is a strong and well-organized grass roots effort to defend parental rights from bureaucrats.