WASHINGTON — The White House responded to a petition on Monday that called for the granting of asylum to a Christian family who fled their homeland of Germany to homeschool their children, choosing not to comment on the matter.
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Uwe and Hannelore Romeike fled to the United States in 2008 after German authorities demanded that they stop homeschooling their six children. Homeschooling was made illegal in the country in 1938 under the dictatorship of Adolph Hitler, and the law has never been repealed, but rather strengthened. In 2007, the German Supreme Court ruled that the country’s mandate that children be sent to public school is necessary to “counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.”
German officials have been cracking down on families that keep their sons and daughters at home, and have threatened them with fines, imprisonment and even the removal of the children from the household. The Romeike children were taken from their parents for a time before fleeing to the United States for refuge.
In 2010, Memphis immigration judge Lawrence Burman granted the family asylum, stating that he believed the Romeike’s would face persecution for their faith if they returned to Germany.
“[The law is] utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans,” Burman ruled. “Homeschoolers are a particular social group that the German government is trying to suppress. This family has a well-founded fear of persecution … therefore, they are eligible for asylum … and the court will grant asylum.”
However, the United States Department of Justice soon appealed the hearing, and every court has denied the family asylum ever since, asserting that the family is not facing persecution for homeschooling as the requirement applies to all German citizens–not just Christians.
“The Romeikes [have] not shown that Germany’s enforcement of its general school-attendance law amounts to persecution against them, whether on grounds of religion or membership in a recognized social group,” the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this past May. “There is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law.”
In addition to fighting the matter in the courts, the Virginia-based Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) filed an online petition this spring with the White House, urging the U.S. government to grant asylum to the family.
“Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to homeschool, and the U.S. has the world’s largest and most vibrant homeschool community. Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany,” it stated. “The Romeikes hope for the same freedom our forefathers sought. Please grant the privilege of liberty to the Romeike family.”
The White House responds to petitions that generate a minimum of 100,000 signatures within a 30-day period. The Romeike petition exceeded the needed amount of signatures, ending with 127,258 signees by the deadline.
On Monday–four months after submission, the White House responded to the petition, but said it could not comment on the case.
“To the extent that these petitions request a particular law enforcement or adjudicatory action, or address a matter before the courts, we cannot issue a comment,” it wrote.
“But while we can’t comment on this particular issue, we know that homeschooling is a popular option for many parents pursuing high academic standards for their children,” the White House continued. “Homeschooling can provide young people with the resources and attention they need to succeed academically, and we understand why their parents value this freedom.”
Michael Ferris, president of HSLDA, said that he is disappointed with the response from the Obama administration.
“No one can understand why the White House is showing so much leniency to millions of immigrants who have come here illegally in hopes of securing better jobs, but is so determined to deport this one family who has come to America in search of freedom for themselves and their children,” he stated. “This petition was the perfect opportunity for the White House to explain why this administration appealed the original grant of asylum. This was a perfect opportunity for the White House to explain the blatantly unequal treatment being received by the Romeike family. But the White House stalled for four months and said absolutely nothing.”
“When the White House simply notes that parents value their own freedom, it stops dangerously short in its statement,” Ferris said. “Where is the ringing endorsement that parental freedom is a fundamental human right? The White House silence on this point says a great deal.”