Last year, I wrote about a German family who was pursuing political asylum in the United States. Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, along with their five children, fled their native Germany, seeking refuge from persecution for homeschooling, and their story was all over the news this week.
If you aren't familiar with their plight, the Romeikes withdrew their children from local schools, and began homeschooling in 2006, concerned that compulsory education was undermining their Christian faith and what they were trying to teach their children at home. But homeschooling is banned by law in Germany, which caused the Romeikes to accumulate $10,000 in fines and risked their children being taken from them.
Soon after they arrived in the U.S., the Romeikes were granted asylum. In fact, federal immigration Judge Lawrence Burman ruled the Romeikes had a reasonable fear of persecution for their beliefs, rightly depicting the homeschool ban as "utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans."
Astonishingly, the Obama administration appealed that ruling, challenging the permanent resident status of the Romeike family, thus, placing them in danger of deportation. The government contended that the evangelical Christians were not being treated unfairly since everyone is banned from homeschooling in Germany.
The administration won the appeal, leaving the Romeikes with only one legal option left to pursue: Ask the Supreme Court to review their case.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court declined to review the case. The odds were not in the Romeikes's favor; less than one percent of all appeals are considered by the highest court. But the formal refusal was still a blow, and hard to accept. All seemed lost, until something unexpected happened.
The very next day, the Department of Homeland Security granted special status to the Romeikes, allowing them to stay in the United States indefinitely.
There was no reason given for this change of heart, but one can always speculate (as we coincidentally approach mid-term elections). The public outcry over the harsh treatment of the Romeikes has been great, and not just on behalf of the Romeikes themselves.
When the Obama administration asserts that a ban on homeschooling is okay because it applies equally across the board, they are discounting all those who wish raise their children according to deeply-held religious beliefs. The myopic stance is yet another example of a broader philosophical position of the administration that the drafters of the U.S. Constitution didn't really mean free exercise of religion when they said free exercise of religion, just a freedom to worship.
But the drafters meant what they wrote. This freedom of religion – to which the Declaration of Independence depicts as inalienable, or God-given – encompasses more than worship to include the fundamental liberty we all share to live our lives in ways that do not violate our consciences.
When our allies deny this right to their citizens, America should be that city of the hill, shining as a beacon of hope, offering liberty to those oppressed.
In God's providence, the Romeikes were finally given the safe harbor they so desperately sought. And in so doing, the fundamental rights of American's own citizens were reinforced as well.