Uwe and Hannelore Romeike (roh-MIKE-uh) are white German Christians. In 2006, they took their five children out of state-run schools in Germany in order to homeschool them, claiming their kids were being taught in a manner contrary to the family’s religious and moral beliefs. German law requires school attendance, so authorities fined the Romeikes in total over $9,000 and threatened them with imprisonment. The state also threatened to take custody of the children if the Romeikes did not send them back to school.
In 2008, following those skirmishes with their school and the state, the family came to the United States. After being contacted by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), they made claims for asylum so that they could continue to educate their children at home. Under American law, asylum can be given to any petitioner who proves fear of persecution on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. The legal issues, which turn on asylum law, are complex. You can find an excellent summary of them here.
If you’d prefer to read the original opinions and briefs so you can make your own judgments, you can find the materials here.
As is common in the U.S. legal system, the case now has a lengthy and somewhat complicated history. An immigration judge initially granted asylum. Then, our Federal government appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which last year heard the case and ordered the Romeikes to be deported. The Romeike family has now appealed that decision and their case will be heard by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 (today).
If it is helpful, here is a general flowchart explaining the steps in the asylum process.
Suffice it to say, the case has resulted in some hubbub on the part of conservatives, who wonder why the Obama administration, which is generally pro-immigration, and which has broad discretion to pursue only high-priority immigration cases, would work so hard to deport this family. Conservatives have suggested the Romeikes’ white Evangelical Christian-ness as a likely cause. Amusingly, liberals are pretty sure the Romeikes’ demographics have less to do with motivating the Obama administration, but everything to do with why religious conservatives, who tend to be anti-immigration, have taken up the Romeike cause. Regardless of the talking heads’ opinions, the Obama administration may simply be trying to avoid offending a close ally.
WHY DOES THE ROMEIKE CASE MATTER?
The outcome of the Romeike case won’t immediately change any law in the U.S., because the 6th Circuit only has the power to interpret and apply the law to the actual parties before it.
The case matters, however, because at its heart lies the question of whether we, as parents, religious or not, homeschooling or not, may raise our children according to our own consciences, without interference from the state. Who has ultimate authority over your child’s education, you or Uncle Sam?
If the United States government sends the Romeikes back to Germany, knowing that they will be fined, separated from their kids, and/or possibly jailed for refusing to send their kids to a governmentally-sanctioned school, it says much more than just that homeschoolers are not a unified and protected group in Germany (one argument advanced by the Attorney General’s office). It would suggest that the parental right to make decisions concerning our children is not a fundamental right–and therefore can be more easily trumped by state or federal government interests.
That could be a slippery slope. It would also directly contradict the law as interpreted by our Supreme Court in prior pivotal parental rights cases.
In 2000, in Troxel v. Granville, the Court wrote “it cannot now be doubted that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.”
And in 1997, in Washington v. Glucksburg, the Court wrote, “In a long line of cases, we have held that, in addition to the specific freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, the “liberty” specially protected by the Due Process Clause includes the rights…to direct the education and upbringing of one’s children.”
We parents might disagree about a lot, especially when it comes to education. But at the end of the day, we all try to do the best for our particular kids, in our particular situations, whether that means putting them in public school, private school, homeschooling them or a combo. I hope we can all agree that we should have the right, within reason, to see our children educated in the manner and place of our choice.
Don’t watch the Romeike case to see what happens to some “white German Evangelical Christians”. Watch it to see what happens to two very committed parents, and what it might mean for parental rights, for parents of all flavors, here in the U.S.
For more information on this case, check out the HSLDA website. They represent the Romeikes and have continuing updates.