Global Human Rights Conference Includes Homeschooling
For the first time in its 50-year history, the World Congress on the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy included homeschooling on the agenda of its biannual global conference. Held in Frankfurt, Germany at Goethe University August 15–20, the congress attracted nearly 1,000 academics and legal practitioners. Experts in human rights gave papers at a special workshop, organized by Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, noted Christian apologist and distinguished professor of philosophy and Christian thought at Patrick Henry College. The workshop included presentations by Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, a German theologian and director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom, and by Michael Donnelly, attorney and director for international affairs at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.
In his paper, “The Justification of Home Schooling vis-a-vis the European Human Rights System,” Montgomery said that homeschooling should be tolerated in every country.
“The right of parents a priori to the state to make decisions about how and where their children are educated is a natural right and one that is founded on the basis of holy Scripture. While some governments may choose to regulate or oversee parents who choose this form of education, all governments should tolerate if not encourage it. That is why I thought it should be covered at this conference. I’m glad the organizers agreed with me.”
Montgomery argued that the European Court of Human Rights has missed important opportunities to correctly apply human rights law to the conflict over homeschooling, instead deferring to current societal prejudices and predilections in favor of secular and statist presumptions. He wrote:
“At the deepest level culturally, increasing secularism in modern society— particularly as manifested in Europe—poses special difficulties. The secular mindset can (as in the Konrad opinion) lead courts to an unconscious acceptance of politically correct notions of educational ‘integration.’ Sadly, this also means that where constitutions and international human rights instruments are silent on an issue, the law will not appeal, as in the past, to the ‘higher law’ as set out in the holy Scriptures—the inalienable dignity of the human person, his family, and his personal decision-making, as John Locke derived these rights principally from biblical revelation—but will tend to defer to state power and bureaucracy, infused by prevailing pluralistic viewpoints. Where this occurs, the tragic result will be, not an increase in human rights protections but just the opposite. In that respect, the home schooling issue may serve as a litmus test to discerning jurists.”
Schirrmacher, also a professor of sociology, presented “Compulsory Education in Schools only? Divergent Developments in Germany.” He noted that homeschooling is virtually impossible in Germany because of an aggressive attempt by “legal and sociological machinery” to repress the practice while ignoring regular and rampant truancy among public school children. Schirrmacher argued that the country’s federal child protection law that allows the Jugendamt, Germany’s child protection service, to take custody of children is being misused when applied to homeschoolers. “Parents,” he argues, “who want something different, are not to be placed on the same level as parents who are violent and let their children get into a bad state and who should be punished.”
National Socialism Influence Continues
Schirrmacher points out that compulsory education through school attendance has a long history in Germany, but that the criminalization of homeschooling is a recent issue originating with the rise of national socialism. He wrote:
“Princes wanted all subjects to be good citizens and youth to be raised to be good soldiers. For the first time, as far as I can see, the principle of compulsory education is expressed in the Weimar School Regulations of 1919. Even though educational instruction at home was nevertheless able to have a niche existence, it is still the case that compulsory education as it developed did not serve the august democratic goals of equality and equal opportunity. Rather, it was a central and controlling element with which the state educated the population in accordance with its principles. . . national socialism made use of the fact that in any case all children had to learn according to the manner the state prescribed, and thus it merely eliminated free alternatives in private and alternative schools as well as in home educational instruction.”
Schirrmacher was highly critical of the Germany’s use of criminal law to prosecute homeschooling parents.
“Modern democratic Germany should not use criminal law against parents who homeschool. There is no doubt that the current enforcement approach of jail, high fines and taking children from parents over education began with the national socialists.”
HSLDA has reported on numerous cases where the German government persecutes homeschooling parents. That is why HSLDA brought the first-ever homeschool asylum case in 2008 for the Romeike family from Germany. The Romeikes were granted asylum in January, 2010 by immigration Judge Lawrence Burman, but the Obama administration has appealed the Romeikes’ victory. As of August 2011, the family was still waiting for a determination of the appeal.
Donnelly, who is also an adjunct professor of government at Patrick Henry College, presented “Creature of the State? Homeschooling, the Law, Human Rights, and Parental Autonomy.” He argued that homeschooling is a human right of the first order and that pluralism as practiced in most Western societies demands its acceptance. He disagreed with those, like Emory Law Professor and noted child rights advocate Martha Albertson-Fineman, who argued that homeschooling is a problem in a democracy that should “require compulsory public education because only t