Monday, March 1, 2010

German home-schoolers living in Tennessee granted asylum

Campbell Robertson reports in today's New York Times on a late January decision by a federal judge in Memphis to grant asylum to the Romeike family, who left Germany in 2008 and have lived in Tennessee for some time. The Romeikes sought asylum in the United States, claiming persecution in their home country because of their desire to home school their five children, aged 2 to 12. Robertson explains that Germany requires all children to attend a recognized school, and the Romeikes were fined about $11,000 when they took their children out of school several years ago to begin home schooling them in Germany. The German government also threatened that the Romeikes would lose their children, and police showed up one morning to take the children to school in a police van. Here's an excerpt from the story that expresses Germany's rationale for its law:
The reasoning behind the German law, cited by officials and in court cases, is to foster social integration, ensure exposure to people from different backgrounds and prevent what some call “parallel societies.”

“We have had this legal basis ever since the state was founded,” said Thomas Hilsenbeck, a spokesman for the Ministry for Culture, Youth and Sport in the Romeikes’ state, Baden-W├╝rttemberg. “This is broadly accepted among the general public.”

The federal judge in Memphis granted the family asylum on the basis that they reasonably feared persecution if they returned to Germany. Robertson summarizes:

Describing home-schoolers as a distinct group of people who have a “principled opposition to government policy,” he ruled that the Romeikes would face persecution both because of their religious beliefs and because they were “members of a particular social group,” two standards for granting asylum.

The Romeikes live in Morristown, Tennessee, population 28,002, in the Smoky Mountains. They apparently settled in Morristown because another German family who home-school their children also live there. Presumably, the decision regarding where to live was influenced by expectations regarding likely judicial receptivity to their claims. In this case, that gamble seems to have been a good one.

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