Michael Farris, J.D., LL.M.

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U.S. government fighting to deny asylum to German homeschool family

Michael Farris, J.D., LL.M.
By Michael Farris LL.M.
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WASHINGTON, D.C., February 14, 2013, (HSLDA) - Having immersed myself for about eight days in writing a brief for the Romeike family (a German homeschooling family who fled to the United States for political asylum), I wanted to share some insights I gained into the view of our own government toward the rights of homeschooling parents in general. 

You will benefit from some context.

The U.S. law of asylum allows a refugee to stay in the United States permanently if he can show that he is being persecuted for one of several specific reasons. Among these are persecution for religious reasons and persecution of a "particular social group." 

In most asylum cases, there is some guesswork necessary to figure out the government's true motive--but not in this case. The Supreme Court of Germany declared that the purpose of the German ban on homeschooling was to "counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies." 

This sounds elegant, perhaps, but at its core it is a frightening concept. This means that the German government wants to prohibit people who think differently from the government (on religious or philosophical grounds) from growing and developing into a force in society.

It is thought control. It is belief control. It is totalitarianism dressed up in politically correct lingo.

But my goal today is to not belabor the nature of German repression of homeschooling, rather I seek to reveal the view of the United States government to all of this. 

The Romeikes' case is before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The case for the government is officially in the name of the Attorney General of the United States. The case is called Romeike v. Holder. Thus, the brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice is filed on behalf of the attorney general himself--although we can be reasonably certain he has not personally read it. Nonetheless, it is a statement of the position of our government at a very high level.

We argued that Germany is a party to many human rights treaties that contain specific provisions that protect the right of parents to provide an education that is different from the government schools. Parents have the explicit right to give their children an education according to their own philosophy.

While the United States government argued many things in their brief, there are three specific arguments that you should know about.

First, they argued that there was no violation of anyone's protected rights in a law that entirely bans homeschooling. There would only be a problem if Germany banned homeschooling for some but permitted it for others. 

Now in reality, Germany does permit some people to homeschool, but it is rare and in general Germany does ban homeschooling broadly--although not completely. (Germany allows exemptions from compulsory attendance for Gypsies and those whose jobs require constant travel. Those who want to stay at home and teach their own children are always denied.)

But, let's assess the position of the United States government on the face of its argument: a nation violates no one's rights if it bans homeschooling entirely.

There are two major portions of constitutional rights of citizens--fundamental liberties and equal protection. The U.S. Attorney General has said this about homeschooling. There is no fundamental liberty to homeschool. So long as a government bans homeschooling broadly and equally, there is no violation of your rights. This is a view which gives some acknowledgement to the principle of equal protection but which entirely jettisons the concept of fundamental liberties. 

A second argument is revealing. The U.S. government contended that the Romeikes failed to show that there was any discrimination based on religion because, among other reasons, the Romeikes did not prove that all homeschoolers were religious, and that not all Christians believed they had to homeschool.

This argument demonstrates another form of dangerous "group think" by our own government. The central problem here is that the U.S. government does not understand that religious freedom is an individual right. One need not be a part of any church or other religious group to be able to make a religious freedom claim. Specifically, one doesn't have to follow the dictates of a church to claim religious freedom--one should be able to follow the dictates of God Himself. 

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The United States Supreme Court has made it very clear in the past that religious freedom is an individual right. Yet our current government does not seem to understand this. They only think of us as members of groups and factions. It is an extreme form of identity politics that directly threatens any understanding of individual liberty.

One final argument from Romeikes deserves our attention. One of the grounds for asylum is if persecution is aimed at a "particular social group." The definition of a "particular social group" requires a showing of an "immutable" characteristic that cannot change or should not be required to be changed. We contend that German homeschoolers are a particular social group who are being persecuted by their government.

The U.S. government says that Germany's ban on homeschooling does not meet this standard because, of course, the family can change--they can simply stop homeschooling and let their children go to the public schools. After all, the U.S. government says, the children are only in public schools 22-26 hours a week. After that the parents may teach what they want.

There are two main problems with this argument. First, our government does not understand that families like the Romeikes have two goals when they chose homeschooling. There are things they want to teach and there are things they want to avoid their children being taught in the government schools. 

Does anyone think that our government would say to Orthodox Jewish parents, we can force your children to eat pork products for 22-26 hours per week because the rest of the time you can feed them kosher food? 

Freedom for the mind and spirit is as important as freedom for the body and spirit.

This argument necessarily means that the United States government believes that it would not violate your rights if our own government banned homeschooling entirely. After all, you could teach your children your own values after they have had 22-26 hours of public school indoctrination aimed at counteracting religious and philosophical views the government doesn't like. The second problem with this argument goes back to the definition of immutability. Immutable means a characteristic that cannot be changed 
or "should not be required" to be changed.

No one contends that homeschooling is a characteristic that cannot be changed. We simply contend that in a free nation it is a characteristic that should not be required to be changed. 

Germany has signed international treaties which proclaim that parental rights are a prior right over any views of the government when it comes to education. In fact, the movement for the adoption of these treaties came in reaction to the world's horror at broad-ranging attack on human rights that Germany perpetrated in the events surrounding World War II. Nazi Germany believed that the children belonged first to the state. The world community answered that and said, no, parental rights are prior to those of the government.

When the United States government says that homeschooling is a mutable choice--they are saying that it is a characteristic that a government can legitimately coerce you to change. In other words, you have no protected right to choose the education for your children. Our nation could remove your ability to homeschool and your choice would be mutable--since the government has the authority to force you to implement their wishes.

The prospect for German homeschooling freedom is not bright. But we should not reserve all of our concern for the views of the German government. Our own government is attempting to send German homeschoolers back to that land to face criminal prosecutions with fines, jail sentences, and removal of custody of children. 

We should understand that in these arguments by the U.S. government, something important is being said about our own liberties as American homeschoolers.

The Attorney General of the United States thinks that a law that bans homeschooling entirely violates no fundamental liberties. It is important that Americans stand up for the rights of German homeschooling families. In so doing, we stand up for our own.

This article originally appeared on HSLDA's website and is reprinted with permission.

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Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

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Sydney archdiocese sends letters to businesses expressing concern over support of gay ‘marriage’

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has sent letters expressing "grave concern" to numerous corporations that had sponsored a full-page newspaper ad published in The Weekend Australian on June 13 promoting same-sex "marriage".

“You are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign designed to pressure the federal government into changing the Marriage Act,” reads the letter from archdiocese business manager Michael Digges to one of the businesses, the law firm of Maurice Blackburn.

“I wonder whether you have questioned whether it is the role of a corporation such as yours to be participating in such an ­important matter that impacts all of Australian society now and into the future," it continued.

"For corporations to speak on such issues on behalf of shareholders, employees, clients/customers, suppliers and other stakeholders is indeed overstepping their purpose and is to be strongly resisted," the letter stated.

Maurice Blackburn, along with more than 150 other businesses including Qantas, Google, MTV, McDonald's, Levi's and the Football Federation of Australia, put their names in the ad calling for the government to amend the Australian Marriage Act of 1961, which recognizes marriage as between one man and one woman, to include homosexual couples.

Maurice Blackburn's Liberty Sanger told the ABC the letter was “uncalled for” and “a very heavy-handed response,” noting that the position of the law firm is to "continue to show our support so that others who have the same view as us have the courage to speak up and encourage parliamentarians to make the right decision in the Parliament."

The letter to corporations asking them to stay out of the culture war surrounding same-sex "marriage" follows the distribution of a pastoral letter titled "Don’t Mess With Marriage" to Sydney parishes, staff and parents of children at Catholic schools.

“Don't Mess with Marriage “explains the Church's formal teachings on the Sacrament of Marriage, and it reaffirms and supports the definitions contained within the Marriage Act 1961 and the Marriage Act Amendment of 2004, which defines marriage as "a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others."

It also details the implications of changing this law to permit same-sex couples to marry.

"The Church's contribution to informing the public debate is crucial," said Anthony Cleary, Director of Religious Education and Evangelization in a statement, "because at the moment this side of the argument is not being adequately covered either by social or the mainstream media."

Cleary pointed out that for people of faith, marriage is not simply a label that can be attached and transferred to different types of relationships as the fashion of the day dictates.

He explained that marriage for Catholics is not only an emotional union, but a total commitment of body and spirit, and that the Church teaches that God is the author of marriage and that the matrimonial covenant between baptized persons is holy and has the status of a sacrament.

Earlier in June a statement from the Sydney Archdiocese said that thirty-eight Australian religious leaders representing the major religious traditions and a broad diversity of faiths and cultures, have written a public letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, urging him to resist attempts in Federal Parliament to redefine the meaning of marriage.

"As leaders of Australia's major religions we write to express the grave concerns that we, and those who share our various faiths, share regarding Bills that have or will be introduced into the Federal Parliament to change the definition of marriage in Australian law," the letter said.

The 38 signatories include the Catholic and Anglican Archbishops of Sydney, a bishop of the Lutheran Church, bishops from various Eastern and Orthodox Churches, Christian pastors representing major Protestant denominations, senior rabbis from the Jewish community and leaders from both the Sunni and Shia Islamic communities.

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The religious leaders pointed out that Australia's definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman is shared by the vast majority of nations and cultures, who represent over 91 percent of the global population.

Moreover, they emphasized the need to uphold traditional marriage for the good of children, stating that, "as a couple, two persons of the same sex are not able to provide a child with the experience of both mothering and fathering. Only the institution of marriage between a man and a woman has this inherent capacity to provide children with both of these relationships that are so foundational to our human identity and development."

The Abbott federal government had gone into the last election with the policy of supporting traditional marriage, meaning that the government MPs would be bound to vote against same-sex “marriage” on a party basis if a bill is put forward.

Australian law permits homosexual civil unions, but not marriage, a law which Abbott has defended.

Following May's referendum in Ireland legalizing same-sex "marriage", Abbott reiterated that Australia will not hold such a referendum, despite pressure from activists.

"Referendums are held in this country when there is a proposal to change our constitution and I don't think anyone is suggesting the constitution needs to be changed in this respect," Abbott said. "It's up to members of parliament who are eager for change to decide whether they want to bring it forward."

The letter from the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney to the law firm of Maurice Blackburn is available in two parts here and here.

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Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

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Supreme Court suspends Texas law that would have closed half of its abortion facilities

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – About half of the abortion facilities in Texas got a reprieve from the Supreme Court on its last day in session.

Justices ruled 5-4 that, right now, the state of Texas may not enforce health protection laws that would have put all but nine of the state's abortion offices out of business. The court's conservative bloc – Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito – objected, but Anthony Kennedy cast the decisive vote with the court's liberals.

At issue is whether the state may require abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and require abortion facilities to meet the same health and safety codes as other ambulatory surgical centers.

The temporary stay of Senate Bill 5 lasts until the justices decide whether they will hear an appeal from the abortion industry, which argues the law's provisions would unduly restrict a woman's access to abortion-on-demand.

“The U.S. Supreme Court was swayed, not for the first time in a week, by illogical arguments,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “By actively lobbying against common sense regulations that would make sure women have access to ‘safe, legal and rare’ abortions, Planned Parenthood and their allies are making a mockery of women’s health care.”

“The abortion industry cares only for their bottom line, and women and their prenatal children are merely dollar signs in their business cycle,” Hawkins said.

"Women and babies are being denied protections with the Supreme Court blocking pro-life legislation,” said Lila Rose of Live Action. “Contrary to what big abortion organizations would have us believe, the possible closure of abortion facilities is due to the refusal of these corporations to adhere to sensible and ordinary medical precautions. We look forward to the day that both the legislature and the Courts use their power to protect the most vulnerable among us."

State pro-life leaders regret the loopholes that they say put women's health at risk.

“Unfortunately, women who do not have abortions at any of the nine operating ambulatory surgical centers that perform abortions will continue to be subjected to substandard medical care,” said Joe Pojman, Ph.D., executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

The ruling does not permanently enjoin the state. It does not even guarantee justices will hear the case.

Should they decline, the law will go into effect in its entirety.

Last October, the Supreme Court allowed Texas to implement these measures while the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considered its decision in a 6-3 verdict. However, it added that the state must allow abortion facilities in El Paso and McAllen to operate subpar operations, defying greater protections for women, because closing those facilities would require women to drive a great distance to the next nearest abortion facility.

Earlier this month, a three-panel judge of the appeals court, based in New Orleans, upheld the health regulations. All three judges had been appointed by President George W. Bush.

Had the full requirements gone into effect, half of all the remaining abortion facilities in Texas would have closed.

The left-wing website ThinkProgress worried, if the High Court upheld the decision, it would mean that “Roe v. Wade is almost entirely dead.”

Today, representatives of the abortion lobby felt relief. "Our Constitution rightly protects women from laws that would create barriers to safe and legal abortion care, but Texas politicians have tried to sneak around the Constitution with sham regulations designed to close clinics’ doors," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a pro-life Republican, vowed to “continue to fight for higher-quality health care standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable – the unborn.”

“I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law,” he added.

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Drew Belsky

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Post-Obergefell, states withdraw marriage licenses, ensure conscience protection

Drew Belsky
By Drew Belsky

June 29, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Friday's Supreme Court ruling redefining marriage in the United States has caused a tumult in county clerks' offices.  While some states have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples throughout, others have counties still waiting for directives from their respective attorneys general regarding how to proceed.

Louisiana governor and 2016 presidential candidate Bobby Jindal (R) announced that clerks in the Pelican State must wait 25 days before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  This is the period of time the state has to ask the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its own ruling on the matter.  However, Jindal admitted on Meet the Press that Louisiana will likely have to comply with the Supreme Court's Obergefell ruling before long, and the governor's directive is binding only in New Orleans, which falls under his personal jurisdiction.

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In a statement, Jindal said, “Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.”

“This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision. This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty,” he said.

Two Alabama counties have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether.  The probate judges in Pike and Geneva Counties cited Alabama law, which states that "[m]arriage licenses may [as opposed to shall] be issued by the judges of probate of the several counties."  Judges in other Alabama counties may do likewise.

Mississippi may follow suit as well, with Gov. Phil Bryant (R) having declared his intention "to do all that he can to protect and defend the religious freedoms of Mississippi."

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) echoed Bryant, calling the Supreme Court ruling an "overreach of the federal government," whose "powers should no longer be limited to those enumerated in our Constitution."

In Texas, prior to the Obergefell ruling, state attorney general Ken Paxton (R) had requested that county clerks hold off on granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending state approval.  However, several clerks post-Obergefell began processing licenses immediately, especially in large urban counties.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) condemned the Obergefell decision, blasting the Supreme Court for "abandon[ing] its role as an impartial judicial arbiter" and "becom[ing] a nine-member legislature."  Abbott promised to protect the religious liberty of Texas residents: "No Texan is required by the Supreme Court's decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage."

The Texas Senate's GOP caucus, calling Obergefell "an affront to the Texas Constitution," pledged to support Abbott and his attorney general "in any legal action [they] may take to defend the religious liberty of Texans in the wake of this troubling decision."

Harris County in Texas originally balked at issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples specifically because the forms read "man" and "woman," but the county's attorney's office directed clerks to issue the forms anyway, saying they could be corrected later.  Eventually, revised forms reading "applicant 1" and "applicant 2" were provided.

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