German Government Levels Crippling Fines, Threatens to Seize Custody of Son from Homeschooling Famil
By Peter J. Smith
BERLIN, July 10, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Another legal battle is brewing in Germany as yet another German family faces ruinous fines and the loss of custody of their son, because they have committed the crime of homeschooling.
Hans and Petra Schmidt, residents of southern Bavaria, will appear in court for two separate hearings in order to defend their right to act as the primary educators of the children against the German state, which has outlawed homeschooling since 1938, the days of the Third Reich.
According to the International Human Rights Group (IHRG), the Schmidts are committed Christians, who chose to educate their children at home in order to preserve their two sons from the hostile moral and secular environment of German public schools.
"I think this case shows the seriousness of the situation in Germany," said IHRG President Thornton. Thornton told LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) that the government has at least five different files on the Schmidt family, and thus far officials have denied requests to allow the family to view the content of the files.
"Even though there is only one child involved now, and the family has done an accomplished job with the other son, the government is increasing their attacks," said Thorton.
Despite having educated their two children, Josua, 16, and Aaron, 14, for over nine years with great success, the government earlier this year initiated proceedings against the Schmidts as part of a clampdown on homeschooling families.
The state has leveled heavy fines on the Schmidt family to the tune of a staggering €13,000 ($18,300 USD), which has broken their finances and pushed them to the brink of bankruptcy. Hans Schmidt has only a modest income through assisting those with disabilities to learn a trade at a vocational center. With the family unable to pay all 26 fines, the government has placed a lien on their home.
Attorneys Armin and Gabriele Eckermann, of SchuzH, a German homeschooling advocacy group, along with IHRG, are representing the Schmidts in a July 21 trial over the payment of € 9,000.
For the Schmidts, however, the greatest battle involves the Jugendamt (Youth Welfare Office), which has demanded custody of their youngest son, Aaron. The Jugendamt was created in 1937 for the purpose of effecting the uniform educational and social formation of the youth of the Third Reich at the direction of Fuehrer Adolf Hitler. The Jugendamt has repeatedly attempted to seize custody of German children in homeschooling families, with the most infamous case being the abduction of 15-year-old Melissa Busekros in the Busekros affair. (see coverage here, here, and here).
"The Jugendamt are trying to take custody from the parents through the courts," Thornton told LSN. Thus far, the Jugendamt has not attempted to seize Aaron by force as they had done in the Busekros affair.
According to IHRG, the Schmidts have made a good faith effort to prove to the authorities the effectiveness of their homeschooling - both sons were tested by school officials and proved their excellent academic and social competencies. Josua, 16, was awarded his high school diploma after scoring very high on the state exams, which are mandatory for graduation. Although Aaron also scored very high, German law makes him ineligible to receive his diploma until he is sixteen-years old, requiring him to continue compulsory school attendance in the state school system.
"It shows how much the German system hates permitting anyone to step outside accepted government educational practices," said Thornton. "If they were merely concerned with education they would not stop families who have proven their ability to match the State's abilities. In this case, however, the success of the family is not slowing down the government."
Thornton told LSN that Johannes Hildebrandt, the same attorney who ultimately secured the right of Melissa to remain with her family, is representing the Schmidts in the custody case.
"We have to work with these families or Germany will soon be without any home school families," warned Thornton. "That type of an ending will embolden other countries, like Sweden, to follow in Germany's steps and that would mean the beginning of the end of parental rights like home schooling in Europe."
"The situation in Germany is getting worse, many families are now looking to leave the country to keep their families intact," said Thornton. "We are continuing to work to convince German officials of the foolishness of this approach, but frankly, as long as they are having success they will not back up."
Authorities have dealt increasingly with Germany's estimated 300-500 homeschoolers in a draconian manner consistent with a statist regime, as parents face imprisonment, heavy fines, the state seizure of their children, or are forced to seek asylum for their convictions in neighboring countries. However, the recent flight of German homeschooling parents Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their family, seeking asylum in the United States, has begun to pique the interest of German media, opening up a possibility that the plight of homeschoolers may gain more attention from politicians.
"It does seem like there has been more interest in reporting on the homeschooling issue in German in the last couple of years," said attorney Mike Donnelly of the Home School Legal Defense Fund (HSLDA). "We are hoping that as the issue becomes more reported and talked about in the mainstream press which is starting to pick it up that it will become more an issue for politicians, and lead to a change in the laws and regulations on homeschooling," said HSLDA attorney Mike Donnelly.
Donnelly explained that the German state and the courts have viewed homeschooling as a "parallel society" in competition with the state. In the eyes of the state, they view, "If you control the kids, you control the culture."
"There is an element of totalitarianism in the way the Germans are treating the homeschooling community in their country. It is nothing like what was happening in World War II, of course, but it is hard not to draw parallels," said Donnelly. He stated that the German penchant for uniformity limits them from understanding that home school education is a mainstream alternative in much of Western society. While state authorities thus far have been unbending, Donnelly expressed hope that increasing media attention may open up the potential for change.
"We are hoping that through cases of the Schmidts, Roemeikes, and others that it will get the attention of lawmakers and policymakers in Germany," said Donnelly.
Related coverage by LifeSiteNews.com:
German Parents Convicted after Withdrawing Daughter from Explicit Sex-Ed Program: Appeal Filed
German Homeschooling Family Applies for Asylum in US
German Homeschooling Parents Sentenced to Three Months in Prison
German Homeschooling Family Flees to England After Mayor Attempts to Seize Children
Melissa - HomeSchooled Teen in Germany Begs for Help to Go Home to Family
European Human Rights Court Rules State May Deny Parents Right to Home School Their Children