European court rules against Christian homeschool family forced to send kids to school

HSLDA Founder Mike Farris meets with the Wunderlich family during the Global Home Education Conference held in Berlin, Germany in October 2012.
HSLDA Founder Mike Farris meets with the Wunderlich family during the Global Home Education Conference held in Berlin, Germany in October 2012. | (Photo: Home School Legal Defense Association)

The European Court of Human Rights ruled against a Christian homeschool family whose children were removed from the home and forced into a government-approved education program.

Europe’s top human rights court ruled Thursday in the case of Wunderlich v. Germany that German authorities did not violate the rights of the Wunderlich family when over two dozen government agents forcibly removed their four children from the home in Darmstadt in August 2013.

At least 33 police officers and seven youth welfare officers stormed the Wunderlich home because the family was choosing to homeschool their children despite knowing that it has been outlawed in Germany since 1918.

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The family wanted their children to be educated in an environment compatible with the parents’ religious convictions.

Wunderlich previously said that authorities were contacted by a neighbor who alleged that he said he would rather kill his children than send them to school. Wunderlich has denied those accusations.

Although four children were removed from the home for a period of about three weeks, they were later returned to the home. Dirk and Petra Wunderlich were able to retain control of custody of their children. But according to Alliance Defending Freedom International, the parents are being required to send their children to a government-approved education program.

ADF International, which has supported the family’s case along with the Home School Legal Defense Association, has argued that Germany’s homeschool policy violates a number of international human rights agreements that Germany is a party to that protect the right of parents to choose the best form of education for their children.

However, the court ruled that the “enforcement of compulsory school attendance, to prevent social isolation of the applicants’ children and ensure their integration into society, was a relevant reason for justifying the partial withdrawal of parental authority.”

“[The court] further finds that the domestic authorities reasonably assumed — based on the information available to them — that children were endangered by the [parents] by not sending them to school and keeping them in a ‘symbiotic’ family system,” the court ruling states.

“In contrast, having regard to the statements of, in particular, Mr. Wunderlich — for example that he considered children to be the ‘property’ of their parents — and on the information available at the time, the authorities reasonably assumed that the children were isolated, had no contact with anyone outside of the family and that a risk to their physical integrity existed.”

ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman said in a statement that the ruling “ignores the fact that Germany’s policy on homeschooling violates the rights of parents to educate their children and direct their upbringing.”

“It is alarming to see that this was not recognized by the most influential human rights court in Europe,” Coleman stressed. “This ruling is a step in the wrong direction and should concern anyone who cares about freedom.”

Wunderlich said after the ruling that it was a “disheartening day” for his family.

“After years of legal struggles, this is extremely frustrating for us and our children,” the father said in a statement. “It is upsetting that the European Court of Human Rights has not recognized the injustices we have suffered at the hands of the German authorities.”

The ECHR ruled that there was no violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights in Wunderlich’s case.

Article 8 states that everyone has “the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence” and that “there shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security…”

“This judgment is a huge setback but we will not give up the fight to protect the fundamental right of parents to homeschool their children in Germany and across Europe,” Mike Donnelly, international homeschooling expert and director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said.

According to ADF International, the Wunderlichs will consider taking their case to the ECHR Grand Chamber, the highest level within Europe’s top human rights court.

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