A team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents raided a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany Thursday, forcibly removing the family’s four children, aged 7-14.
Law enforcement raided the home and seized the children solely because the parents homeschool them–in defiance of a German ban on home education.
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the children of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich were taken to unknown locations. Officials reportedly told the parents they would not be seeing their children “anytime soon.”
HSLDA states that it obtained and translated court documents that authorized the use of force to seize the children and remove them from their parents’ custody. The documents indicated that the only legal grounds for removal were the family’s continuation of homeschooling. Though nothing indicated that the parents were failing to provide an adequate education, the law in Germany ignores the educational progress of the child. Attendance in government schools–not learning–is the object of the German law.
According to HSLDA, Judge Koenig, a Darmstadt family court judge, signed the order to seize the children on Wednesday. Koenig cited the parents’ failure to cooperate “with the authorities to send the children to school.” In addition, the judge authorized the use of force “against the children” if necessary, indicating that such force might be needed because the children had “adopted the parents’ opinion” regarding homeschooling, and “no cooperation could be expected” from either the parents or their children.
Dirk Wunderlich described the scene at his home to HSLDA:
I looked through a window and saw many people, police, and special agents, all armed. They told me they wanted to come in to speak with me. I tried to ask questions, but within seconds, three police officers brought a battering ram and were about to break the door in, so I opened it.
The police shoved me into a chair and wouldn’t let me even make a phone call at first. It was chaotic as they told me they had an order to take the children. At my slightest movement the agents would grab me, as if I were a terrorist. You would never expect anything like this to happen in our calm, peaceful village. It was like a scene out of a science fiction movie. Our neighbors and children have been traumatized by this invasion.
Returning to Germany after Dirk was unable to find work in other European Union countries, the Wunderlich family was hit with a criminal truancy case within days after registering in their town. After several months, the “Youth Welfare Office” was granted legal custody of the children. A court allowed the children to remain in the parents’ home, however, since they were well-treated otherwise and cared for by their parents.
According to HSLDA, German authorities even seized the children’s passports, making it impossible for the family to flee.
“The right to homeschool is a human right,” said Michael Farris, HSLDA chairman and founder. “So is the right to freely move and to leave a country. Germany has grossly violated these rights of this family. This latest act of seizing these four beautiful, innocent children is an outrageous act of a rogue nation.”
Farris said that the right of parents to decide on how their children are educated is a human right of the highest order:
The United States Constitution is not alone in upholding the right of parents to decide how to educate their children. Germany is a party to numerous human rights treaties that recognize the right of parents to provide an education distinct from the public schools that so that children may be educated according to the parents’ religious convictions. Germany has simply not met its obligations under these treaties or as a liberal democracy. HSLDA and I will do whatever we can to help this family regain custody of their children and ensure that they are safe from this persecution. This case demonstrates conclusively why the Romeike asylum case is so important. Families in Germany need a safe place where they can educate their children in peace.
HSLDA is also representing the Romeike family, a German homeschooling family that was granted legal asylum in the United States in 2010 by a U.S. immigration judge. The Obama administration, however, successfully appealed that decision. When the Romeikes appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but were denied asylum, HSLDA decided to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.
If denied asylum by the Supreme Court, the Romeike family faces thousands of dollars in fines and possible jail time in Germany because they have homeschooled their children.
“No one can understand why the White House is showing so much leniency to millions of immigrants who have come here illegally in hopes of securing better jobs, but is so determined to deport this one family who has come to America in search of freedom for themselves and their children,” said Farris.
“The Obama administration has argued before our federal courts that Germany’s policy is legitimate and does not violate either human rights principles generally or religious freedom specifically,” Farris said. “Academic success may be present, but governments are justified in banning homeschooling for the purpose of suppressing religious minorities. That is the full position of this administration. And it is unacceptable.”