The case of a homeschooling family seeking for political asylum in the United States after fleeing Germany is expected to go before an immigration judge in Memphis, Tenn., Thursday.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, formerly of Bissingen, Germany, along with their five children, made it to the United States last August and say they were persecuted for their evangelical Christian beliefs and for homeschooling their children in a country where school attendance is mandatory.
"The persecution of homeschoolers in Germany has dramatically intensified," said Michael P. Donnelly, an attorney with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) representing the family. "They are regularly fined thousands of dollars, sent to prison, or have the custody of their children taken away simply because they choose to home educate."
According to HSLDA, it is illegal to homeschool in Germany, where attendance is compulsory for children ages six to 18. Still, the organization claims there are about 400 homeschool families in Germany, almost all operating underground or are in court for the right to control the education of their children on religious grounds.
Like many conservative parents in the United States, the Romeikes say they wanted to teach their own children because their school textbooks contained language and ideas that conflicted with his family's values.
"We left family members, our home, and a wonderful community in Germany, but the well-being of our children made it necessary," said Mr. Romeike, a music teacher.
Since arriving in the United States, the family has settled in Eastern Tennessee, where they have been warmly welcomed by local homeschool supporters and are being assisted by HSLDA. According to estimates released earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), 1.5 million students were homeschooled in the United States in the spring of 2007, making up 2.9 percent of the school-age population in America. Over the last 8 years (1999-2007) since the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) was first conducted by the NCES, homeschooling has witnessed a 77 percent growth.
"The freedom we have to homeschool our children in Tennessee is wonderful," said Mrs. Romeike through HSLDA. "We don't have to worry about looking over our shoulder anymore wondering when the youth welfare officials will come or how much money we have to pay in fines."
According to HSLDA attorney Donnelly, a victory in the Romeikes' groundbreaking case will provide a path to safety for German homeschool families escaping persecution.
"By supporting a political asylum application, we will be able to shine the light of truth on this real and ongoing problem," he reported after the Romeike's case was filed last November.
HSLDA, with support from the Alliance Defense Fund, has hired immigration attorney Will Humble of Houston to handle the Romeikes' case.
According to ADF, Germany is the only European country that has outright criminal bans on homeschooling.