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Christian school shuttered by German government appeals to European Court of Human Rights

Bible on a school desk in a classroom.
Bible on a school desk in a classroom. | Getty Images

An award-winning Christian hybrid school in Germany is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights after the government shut it down for allegedly violating the state's "educational mandate."

The Dietrich Bonhoeffer International School (DBIS) based in Laichingen, which the Association for Decentralized Learning operated for nine years as a supplementary school that allowed in-school and at-home learning, was ordered closed this school year by the country's education authorities, according to ADF International.

The move comes after the Association for Decentralized Learning was denied accreditation after first filing for it on behalf of two other hybrid schools in 2014. After claiming to have been ignored for three years, the association filed a suit in response to the inaction in 2017.

Following three court hearings in 2019, 2021 and 2022, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ultimately rejected the association's last appeal in December 2022. ADF International filed a lawsuit with the ECHR in May, citing "an egregious violation of freedom of education for the inability to open and run its schools."

In a letter to the school's lawyer last month, German authorities wrote that "the immediate enforcement of the prohibitions is ordered," and the school was also mandated to pay 600 euros ($640) in administrative fees.

"The prohibition … serves to protect the state's educational mandate," the letter reads in part. "In the now-closed school, the state's educational mandate … would be completely displaced."

The school was also ordered to surrender its website, which authorities claimed was an "advertisement for the impermissible school."

The school and its attorneys argue that Germany is in violation of both national and international law with its ban on homeschooling and other educational restrictions.

"Children have a right to a first-class education," Jonathan Erz, the principal of DBIS and head of the Association for Decentralized Learning, said in a statement.

"At our school, we were able to provide families with an education that meets their individual learning needs and allows students to flourish. It saddens me deeply that our students and teachers had to leave our school community," Erz added.

Dr. Felix Böllmann, a German lawyer who serves as director of European advocacy for ADF International and represents the school, echoed Erz, saying in a statement that "parents are the first authority for the education of their children."

"And parents have the right, enshrined in international human rights law, to choose the kind of education that is best for their children, including by embracing innovative approaches like hybrid schooling," Böllmann continued, adding that Germany has one of the most restrictive educational systems in the world.

"The ones who suffer are the children and their families, whose longstanding and beloved school was forced to close," he added.

Both Böllmann and Erz expressed their hope that the ECHR will take their case as an opportunity to reform the state of education in Germany and defend the rights of parents.

DBIS was named after German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, famously executed by the Third Reich in 1945 after being accused of playing a role in the failed July 20 assassination plot against Adolf Hitler.

Bonhoeffer's mother refused to send her children to German public schools when they were very young, choosing instead to educate them herself.

Public school attendance became compulsory in Germany in 1920, and Hitler ultimately abolished primary schools run by churches.

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