Home-schooling saga is the other asylum case making headlines

While much of the world is following Edward Snowden’s asylum case in Russia, another asylum case in Tennessee involving a home-schooling family is getting a lot of attention, too.

Courtroom_United_States_CourthouseSnowden, the former NSA government contractor, is trying to avoid deportation to the United States, claiming he faces persecution after revealing extensive information about the government’s surveillance programs.

The Romeike family is seeking a court ruling on its asylum request to stay in the United States, saying it faces persecution back in Germany because that nation has outlawed home schooling and it punishes offenders with fines and the possible loss of custody of home-schooled children.

The court battle in the U.S. between the Romeikes, their attorneys and the federal government has been going on for several years. This week, the family’s defense team said it would appeal its case to the Supreme Court if other options were exhausted.

“This is not over yet,” said Michael Farris, founder and chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is working with the Romeike family. “We are taking this case to the Supreme Court because we firmly believe that this family deserves the freedom that this country was founded on.”

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently refused to re-hear the case with a full panel of judges. In May 2013, a three-judge panel ruled against the Romeikes.

Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, writing for the appeals court, in May, explained that the Romeikes would have American legal precedent on their side if it had been prosecuted by authorities in the United States for not sending their children to public or government-approved private schools here.

Sutton cited Wisconsin v. Yoder, a 1972 Supreme Court case where the Court said that individual’s free exercise of religion under the First Amendment outweighed the state’s interests in compelling school attendance beyond the eighth grade. (The case involved members of the Amish and Mennonite faiths who were prosecuted for refusing to send children to public schools, citing the act as a violation of faith.)

“Had the Romeikes lived in America at the time, they would have had a lot of legal authority to work with in countering the prosecution,” said Sutton.

Instead, the Romeikes, who are devout Christians,  were living in Germany when the family was prosecuted and fined for home schooling their children in violation of German law.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, the parents, didn’t approve of some of the subject matter taught at German schools.

“I don’t expect the school to teach about the Bible,” Uwe Romeike said  in 2010, but “part of education should be character-building.”

The family traveled to the United States in 2008 and sought asylum in Tennessee. It was granted asylum by a Memphis immigration judge in 2010.

Judge Lawrence O. Burman called the German home-schooling policy “utterly repellent to everything we believe as Americans” when he granted political asylum to the Romeikes, on the basis that they were “members of a particular social group” that faced prosecution in Germany because of their religious beliefs.

The federal government immediately appealed the decision, and the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the decision in 2012.

“Having not shown any pretext in the enforcement of the compulsory school attendance law against them, the applicants did not establish a well-founded fear of persecution or the higher threshold of a clear probability of persecution,” the board said, as it ordered the Romeikes returned to Germany.

In May, Judge Sutton said that the appeals court agreed with the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“The relevant legislation applies only to those who have a ‘well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion,’ ” he said. “There is a difference between the persecution of a discrete group and the prosecution of those who violate a generally applicable law.”

“As the Board of Immigration Appeals permissibly found, the German authorities have not singled out the Romeikes in particular or home schoolers in general for persecution. As a result, we must deny the Romeikes’ petition for review and, with it, their applications for asylum,” he said.

Sutton said that the case centered around “whether the Romeikes have established the prerequisites of an asylum claim—a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground. … The Romeikes have not met this burden.”

Farris, from the Home School Legal Defense Association, outlined the case he hopes to present as the Romeikes continue their fight, in a statement issued last week.

“Despite Friday’s order, the Sixth Circuit’s opinion contains two clear errors: First, they wholly ignored Germany’s proclamation that a central reason for banning homeschooling is to suppress religious minorities. Second, the Sixth Circuit erred when it failed to address the claim that parental rights are so fundamental that no government can deny parents the right to choose an alternative to the public schools,” he said.

The Romeike case has also been followed by a wide variety of web sites and blogs since 2010, most of which support the Romeikes. And several members of Congress have also taken up their cause.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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