European families fight governments over homeschooling

Timothy Fowler

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Thursday, April 25 2013

The Keagle family take part in Bible study during their homeschool schedule in St. Charles, Iowa Sept. 30, 2011. After decades on the margins of political life, homeschoolers were seen as some of the most valued Republican foot soldiers in Iowa, where a few thousand activists could wield an outsize influence in the first nominating contest in the 2012 presidential election. Picture taken Sept. 30, 2011.Photo: Reuters / Brian C. Frank

Two Christian families from Europe are continuing to plead for the right to educate their children at home instead of in State-sponsored schools.

The Romeikes from Germany and the Johannsons from Sweden are petitioning both the government courts and the court of public opinion for what they see as the universal right to home school.

The Romeike family fled Germany to the United States in 2008 after their own government threatened to remove their children from them because they taught them at home.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike desired to homeschool their children in order to emphasize their faith-based values.

German law, however, forbids home schooling. 

The Romeikes moved to Tennessee because it is permitted in the United States.

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The German family has asked the U.S. government for asylum and their case is moving through the U.S. court system.

The administration of President Barack Obama maintains that fighting for the right to home school is not a valid basis for asylum.

Tuesday a federal appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio heard the Romeike's case and the faith-based Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) argued on their behalf

"The ultimate issues," argued HSLDA chairman Michael Farris,"are about whether our government believes that the freedom to homeschool is something that can be coercively changed and whether Germany's values should dictate our values."

Farris said he can't say what the court will decide.

TOUGH QUESTIONS

"Tough questions were asked on both sides, and it's hard to predict the outcome," he said.

"But I also remembering arguing a case before a California court in 2008 and being convinced that we had lost," said Farris. "We ended up winning unanimously, so I know God can intervene."

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition to the U.S. government asking for the Obama administration to allow the Romeikes to stay in the country.

Domenic Johannson kisses his mother in happier days in a picture from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) website. HSLDA has called the removal of Domenic from the Johannson home by Swedish authorities because they home schooled him a "state-napping".Home School Legal Defense Association

Christer and Annie Johannson are also currently asking for home schoolers and concerned people all over the world to join in a letter writing campaign to plead with the Supreme Court in Sweden to hear their case, according to HSLDA.

The Johannson's son Domenic was removed from them by Swedish Social Services in dramatic fashion in 2008. The seven-year old boy was sitting with his parents on an airliner bound for his mother's native India at the time.

Domenic was placed in foster care because his parents had home schooled him for seven months in the previous school year.

At the time of his removal, the school year was over.

The Johannsons home schooled Domenic on practical grounds, not on the basis of their Christian beliefs.

They have said that they intended to put their son into public school in India, where they were moving to do humanitarian work.

The Johannsons have not seen their son in three years.

SWEDISH COURT

In December, 2012 a Swedish appeals court effectively removed their parental rights.

Ruby Harrold-Claesson, an international human rights attorney representing the Johannsons, said that is important to let the Swedish government know it is being watched.

"Let them know that the world is watching", Harrold-Claesson said on the HSLDA website. "I think it is positive that the Justices of the Supreme Court should know that the world is watching them.

 Harrold-Claesson called on people to shower them with faxes, letters, and e-mails.

Michael Donnelly, HSLDA's director of international affairs has been working with the family since 2009 and said that the emotional toll on the parents is extreme.

He said that he fears for Annie Johannson's life.

"If the Supreme Court does not intervene, it is likely they will never see their son again," he said. "It is like a death sentence, except that Domenic is alive and a few miles away from his mother."

In addition to the call for a public outcry, the HSLDA, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Nordic Committee on Human Rights are petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case. 

The case of the German and Swedish homeschool families are indicative of the situation involving similar families in their countries.

Many German homes choolers teach their children in secret.

Some have left for abroad, as have many Swedish families.

The New American, a magazine that supports limited government, reported in November 2012 on a global home education conference held in Berlin at the time.

It quoted Jacob Himmelstrand, head of the Swedish Home Education Association, as telling the conference that many Swedish families had fled to Finland, where home schooling is permitted.

Himmelstrand said authorities in Finland refer to them as "school refugees".

Even though Finland has a long history of homeschooling, things are not always smooth there for those who choose to teach their children at home.

The Finnish Home Educators Association noted in February that a single Finnish mother of three protested when she was harassed by authorities in the city of Turku because she was teaching her children at home.

 Eventually, a lawyer for a Finnish State agency admitted that the Turku school officials had broken the law at a number of points. He chastised the local government for its handling of the case.

Alex Newman, a reporter for the New American, pointed out in his report on the Global Home Education Conference 2012 that the United Nations Universal of Declaration of Human Rights allows for parents' right to home school.

Newman said the document says that "parents have the prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."

"But under certain totalitarian regimes, as in Germany and Sweden, that is not always the case," said Newman.

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News

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