Homeschooling as a right of parents

Consider this a continuation of our discussion of religious liberty or freedom of conscience. Several very articulate pundits have spoken in favor of a German couple, the Romeike family who are seeking asylum in the U.S. to avoid crippling fines, perhaps jail time, and the potential loss of their children. Why? Because they did what was illegal in their native land, homeschooled their children. It’s not illegal here at this time so they’ve moved here and are being defended by a homeschool advocacy group. This is a little embarrassing to the U.S. because Germany is a close ally; we rarely grant asylum to citizens of Western nations.

Catch up with the issue by reading the Baptist Press article and Professor Thomas Kidd’s column. Now, this matters. The reasoning of the U.S. Department of Justice is that no religious liberty issue exists with the Romeike case because the German law is not religiously orientated—all Germans are forbidden to educate their children, not just Christian ones. Let’s substitute the particulars with something mundane like reading the Bible or assembling to worship, or wearing a hijab. Most Americans (or Germans) would not be troubled by such prohibitions, or at least they would not feel obligated by conscience to violate them. Most of us don’t read the Bible or go to church. According to the opinion of our own government this means that no religious liberty issue exists so long as everyone is equally forbidden to read the Bible or wear a hijab. That sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? What reasoning applies to one thing today, perhaps a thing about which we care little, will apply to another thing tomorrow, perhaps something that gores our own oxen.

Of course I begin with the assumption that this is a religious matter. Tammi and I were homeschoolers. Each of our kids experienced home teaching, public schooling, and private Christian education for some portion of their childhoods. We were homeschooling parents because we believed that our children were assigned to us by the Lord (not by the state) for training in all things. Each year we considered each child and each option available to us and made the best decision we could for our family. We considered that our right but more importantly our appropriate application of Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6:4. For us, it is a religious thing we did, and a very fundamental religious thing. Regardless of who assisted us in the teaching of our children, we were their primary teachers. And when we (rarely) discovered those assistants teaching our kids things we considered wrong or wrong-headed, we corrected the error by whatever means necessary. One news story quoted a spokesman for the German Teachers’ Association as saying, “No parental couple can offer a breadth of education [that can] replace experienced teachers.” I pretty much disagree with that and have three well-educated and admirable kids to back up my point.  

The rights of American parents to educate their own children have been often challenged and some states are more friendly to the idea than others. That, by the way, is why the Homeschool Legal Defense Association exists.

And of course there is another way of understanding the idea of religious indoctrination. One reason that any culture would want to provide, even require, standardized education is to somewhat conform all budding citizens to a baseline understanding of citizenship. In our culture and in our day, I don’t agree with the majority opinion on morals. The “settled science” (I love that term) on creation, marriage, and other hot button issues are matters of faith no less to the non-religious than to the religious. Christians are a doctrinal minority but we are not the only “people of faith” contending for the hearts of our children. If I lived in Germany, I’d probably agree with the Romeikes and their dismay over what kids are being taught. Is that opinion allowed even in our country?

Maybe the problem is not animosity toward religious liberty. It needn’t be that to be a problem. If our top cops in the DOJ seriously misunderstand the notion of religious liberty, we have a problem. I know that immigration cases have complex facets that go beyond the convictions or even the needs of a petitioning family. But if our Department of Justice does believe that religious freedom is not abridged if it is abridged uniformly, it has ominous implications for every American with a conscience.

To be plain, if the Romeike case is being accurately reported, they should be granted asylum as refugees from religious persecution. They are fleeing unjust persecution as surely as our Pilgrim forebears. Sending them back to imprisonment and possibly the breaking apart of their family is unworthy of this nation.   

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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