By Peter J. Smith
WESTPHALIA, Germany, December 11, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - At least eight Russo-German families in Salzkotten, Germany, have suffered heavy fines and now their fathers have been sentenced to prison, because they have refused to send their elementary school-age children to mandatory sexual education classes.
The International Human Rights Group, a Christian legal defense organization that defends religious liberty and the right to homeschool in Europe, reports that in addition to refusing to allow their children to attend sex-ed classes, the families also resisted having their children enlisted in a theatre production of "Mein Körper gehört mir" or "My Body Belongs to Me," which informs young children in how to engage in sexual intercourse.
With fines having failed to force the families into compliance, government officials have now sentenced each of the families' respective fathers to spend a brief time in prison. One father has already spent seven days in jail and was released Friday.
Instead of inflicting ordinary punitive fines on the families, the state has opted to impose a special fine called "Bussgeld," which IHRG European Director Richard Guenther explains literally means "repentance money" and is "designed to show contrition for a wrong behavior on the part of the person being fined."
The "Bussgeld" fines are significant, perhaps especially because they put the eight German families in an impossible situation: payment of the fines would imply an admission of guilt, but they believe that they have done nothing wrong.
"This type of persecution from German government officials against the Salzkotten 8 shows how committed the German system is to punishing home school families and others who do not comply with the compulsory education laws," said IHRG President Joel Thornton, "even when they are only removing their children from a single clearly objectionable class."
Thornton states that unlike much of the American education system, German officials "view the children as belonging to the State, particularly during the time they are in school" and for that reason parents' beliefs and authority over their children takes second place to the interests and mandates of the State.
Attorneys Gabriele and Armin Eckermann of the German homeschooling advocacy group SchuzH have intervened with IHRG to represent the Salzkotten 8.
Thornton says that the situation in Germany has prompted IHRG to take a "more radical approach." This involves lodging a civil suit on behalf of a number of persecuted home-school families in order to force Germany's courts to recognize the rights of parents as the primary educators of their children.
Christians in Germany have faced enormous persecution from the German government for removing their children from the German public schools, either through homeschooling - an illegal act according to a law instituted during the Third Reich - or taking them out of select classes they deem harmful to their Christian values, which is also illegal.
The fact that these children often outperform their counterparts in state schools has little bearing on the matter for Germany; the government's stated public policy is to suppress the existence of Parallelgesellschaften or "parallel societies" based on "separate philosophical convictions" through the education system.
The Youth Welfare Office or Jugendamt - an institution similar to Child Protective Services - acts as the government's chief intervening instrument, and when prison and fines do not bend Christian families into compliance, they recommend that these Christians lose parental custody of their children.
In one case, the Jugendamt, accompanied by 15 heavily armed police, forcibly seized 15 year-old Melissa Busekros in the dead of night from her family in 2007 against her will. However, legal intervention ensured that Busekros was legally permitted to return to her family upon turning 16.
IHRG is currently representing Hans and Petra Schmidt, who are faced with a similar situation. They are fighting the state to retain custody of their 14-year-old son Aaron, who is homeschooled. The Schmidts so far have been fined 13,000 Euros (US $19,000) in home-schooling fines and have had a lien placed on their home by the government.
Some homeschooling families have fled the country, either into neighboring Austria or abroad. German homeschooling parents Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their family fled into the United States last November demanding asylum, a move that finally brought the attention of Germany's media to the extreme situation faced by its estimated 300-500 homeschooling families.
German Embassy Contacts:
In the United States:
1 Waverley Street
Ottawa, ON, K2P 0T8
Tel.: 613-232-1101 Fax: 613-594-9330
In the United Kingdom:
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany
23 Belgrave Square
Phone: 020 7824 1300
Fax: 020 7824 1449
See related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com: