German Homeschoolers Granted Political Asylum in Tennessee


A judge in Tennessee has granted asylum to a German family that came to the United States in order to homeschool their children.

In his decision, Lawrence O. Burman, a federal immigration judge, said that the family in question would face persecution were they to return to their home country—not only because of their religion, but also because they are “members of a particular social group” of parents who homeschool their children.

Homeschooling is illegal in Germany, and the German government imposes harsh penalties, including hefty fines, on those who insist on keeping their children out of school. Germany is one of the only remaining European countries that requires and enforces school attendance. It does not matter whether the school is public, private or religious; although health exemptions can be made, those based in philosophy or principal cannot be.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike were fined a total of $11,000, threatened with losing custody of their children, and even visited by police, who took the children to school. This was before they sold their belongings and emigrated to the United States with their three children, who range in age from two to 12.

The Romeikes are devout Christians who had become unhappy with the atmosphere and curriculum of their two oldest children’s schools. Unruly behavior on the part of students, as well as teaching materials which conflicted with their values, led the family to try homeschooling. Fully expecting to be levied minor fines, the family was shocked when the authorities clamped down on them.

Judge Burman said that the penalties experienced by the Romeike family rose to the level of persecution, calling the German government’s behavior towards homeschoolers “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans.” In some cases, he noted, the state even took custody of homeschooled children.

The Romeikes were assisted in their bid for asylum by the Home School Legal Defense Association, an advocacy group based in Virginia. Uwe Romeike approached the association after meeting some of its lawyers at a homeschoolers’ conference in 2007 and learning about their fight to litigate individual cases in Germany. The association has spent years battling the German laws—mostly unsuccessfully—but this is the first known case of a request for political asylum based on homeschooling status.

The case was intended not only to help the Romeike family stay in a country where they can freely homeschool their children, but also to raise worldwide awareness of the restrictive German policies and to push reform in the German system.


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