A court in Germany has given a homeschooling couple custody of their children while they await an appeal from the European Court of Human Rights challenging a law that prohibits homeschooling.
A domestic court in Darmstadt granted Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, a devout Christian couple with four children, got custody of their two youngest children, who are minors in a decision announced Tuesday.
ADF International, a legal group that represented the Wunderlich family and is connected to the Alliance Defending Freedom, celebrated the decision.
Robert Clarke, director of European Advocacy for ADF International and lead counsel for the Wunderlich family, said in a statement that he believed the “right of parents to direct the education of their children is a fundamental right, protected in international law.”
“We are pleased to see that the German court respected this right and acknowledged that the Wunderlich children are doing well,” said Clarke.
“As we wait for referral to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, we hope that, there too, the rights of the Wunderlich family will be safeguarded.”
Germany largely bans the practice of homeschooling, allowing it only for rare exceptions such as serious illness among a child. The requirement to attend government schools is often justified as helping students to better integrate into broader society.
“In our increasingly multicultural society school is the place for a peaceful dialogue between different opinions, values, religions and ideologies,” explained Berlin's education minister, Juergen Zoellner, in a 2010 BBC article. “It is a training ground for social tolerance. Therefore homeschooling is not an option for Germany.”
The Wunderlich family’s challenge to the German education law began in 2005, when their eldest child reached school age. They faced criminal proceedings and fines until they left the country to live abroad from 2008–2011, according to CNA.
In 2013, after the family moved back to Germany, the family was the subject of a raid by police and social workers who removed the four children from their parents’ custody. All four were eventually returned.
In January, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Wunderlich family, concluding the “enforcement of compulsory school attendance” was in their opinion “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 said at the time.
“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.”