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German homeschoolers lose fight at European human rights court

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STRASBOURG, France, January 15, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Germany’s ban on homeschooling does not violate the rights of one homeschooling family.

Dirk and Petra Wunderlich of Darmstadt, Germany, have been fighting for more than a decade for the right not to send their children to state schools. After years of fines, exile, and forced removal of their four children by police, the couple took their struggle to the European rights court. They argued that by forcing their children to go to a local school, the government had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This article pertains to the right to a family life without interference from the government.

However, on January 10, the European Court of Human Rights sided with the German government against the Wunderlich family. According to newsmagazine Deutsche Welle, the court found both that the family “had not had not provided sufficient evidence that the children were properly educated and socialized” and “that a government removing children from their parents to ensure they receive an education did not violate Article 8.”

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence” and also that “public authority may not interfere 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, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

The ECHR also included in their ruling a “troubling statement” by Dirk Wunderlich that “implied” children are the “property” of their parents.

Dirk, 52, and Petra, 53, Wunderlich are gardeners by profession. Their now-teenage children are Machsejah, 19, Joshua, 18, Hannanjah, 16, and  Serajah, 13.

According to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, the Wunderlichs’ ordeal began in 2006 when a court fined the parents “several hundred euros for homeschooling.” In 2008, they left Germany to continue homeschooling in France. In 2009, after intervention by the German government, French authorities removed the Wunderlich children from their home but returned them a few days later. In 2012, after being unable to find long-term employment, the Wunderlich family returned to Germany.

That October, a German district court took legal custody of the Wunderlich children away from their parents and gave it to German social services.

In August 2013, the children were removed from their home for three weeks.

Dirk Wunderlich described his anguish on that occasion to Deutsche Welle last week, saying “August 29, 2013, as 40 officials stood before our door, was the most horrible day for us."

Apparently, the authorities had been contacted by neighbors who claimed Dirk had said he would rather kill his children than send them to school. He called the allegation “nonsense” and “invented.”

On September 19, 2013, the children were returned to their parents on condition that they attend public school, and their passports were revoked. The following August, the passports and custody of the children were returned to the family by order of a German court. The following month, the Wunderlichs resumed homeschooling.

Then in April 2015, both the Homeschooling Legal Defense Association and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International filed an application at the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the Wunderlich family. The following year, the ECHR decided to take the case. In January 2017, the German government presented its defence to the ECHR. In April 2017, the HLDA and ADF presented their response to Germany’s arguments.

The full story can be found in the ECHR judgement.

Dirk Wunderlich asserted to Deutsche Welle that his children are properly socialized, noting that they belong to several clubs and associations. He also stated his belief that the “family circle” is the best environment for children.  

Rod Dreher, author of the The Benedict Option, which proposes solutions to raising virtuous Christian children in an increasingly unvirtuous, anti-Christian world, addressed the plight of the Wunderlich and other German homeschooling families in a recent American Conservative column. He noted, in particular, the European rights court’s interest in children learning such “social skills” as “tolerance or assertiveness.”  

“There you go,” Dreher wrote in response to the ruling. “Terrible. Learning ‘tolerance’ is so important in Germany that the state can override the rights of families.”

He recommended that Christian families who are forced to send their children to state schools create a “parallel polis” while fighting homeschool bans on the political front.  

“Despite this law, and this ruling, German Christians have more freedom than Czech Christians did under communism,” Dreher noted.

“If they want to educate their children in a supplemental way, in addition to what they get in state schools (even contrary to it!), the secret police will not be monitoring them,” he continued.

“Sure, it’s going to be hard, but what choice do they have? And heaven knows American Christians are incomparably more free to act — for now, at least.”

Dreher called for American parental to be defended, politically and legally.

“ ... (I)t’s important for Christians to join and support the Home School Legal Defense Association, and to donate to organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom, which fight for these kinds of liberties,” he said.

Schooling children exclusively at home has been banned in Germany since 1919, possibly initially as a response to high post-war migration from Turkey.  

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