Homeschooling: A Fundamental Human Right?

Homeschooling: A Fundamental Human Right? February 19, 2013

A remarkable political asylum case has raised questions about whether the U.S. government should defend the right of families to homeschool.  The case concerns the Romeike family of Germany, where homeschooling is illegal, and where families who attempt to homeschool their children can face heavy fines and even have their children taken from them. An American immigration judge granted the Romeikes political asylum in 2010, but the Obama Justice Department has been working to overturn their asylum status and have them returned to Germany. Administration lawyers say that the German law does not represent any kind of specific religious discrimination (which would warrant asylum), but only a general legal requirement that all children attend public or state-supervised schools. Thus, in the administration’s view, German authorities punish families like the Romeikes not because they are Christian homeschoolers, but because their children are not attending a governmentally-sanctioned school.

I understand that this issue is more complex than whether Attorney General Eric Holder likes homeschooling or not. And I very much hesitate to designate a political good as a “fundamental human right,” because such notions have become distended and overused in modern American politics. Furthermore, it is not “homeschooling,” per se, that is a fundamental human right. What is fundamental, however, is the right of parents to raise their children according to their consciences, without interference from the state. The Obama adminstration hopefully has no inclination to infringe upon this right in America, but in this case they obviously have more sympathy for Germany’s rigid education policy than the rights of parents, including parents of dissenting religious sensibilities.

The effect of Germany’s law (which, thankfully, is almost unique in western Europe) is to ban parents from taking primary responsibility for educating their children. The most common reason parents would want to do that is religious conviction. This is certainly the case with the Romeikes, so they deserve political asylum as refugees from religious persecution by the government of Germany. Other German Christian homeschoolers have already been fined, and even jailed, for acting according to their conscience with regard to schooling, and the Romeikes can reasonably expect similar treatment if the Obama administration forces them to return. Reasonable fear of such persecution is clear justification for political asylum.

For more coverage, see

Joseph Knippenberg, “Federal Government Tries to Block Homeschooling Refugees,” First Things

Mary Jackson, “Christian homeschoolers losing deportation fight,” WORLD Magazine

Napp Nazworth, “Homeschooling Not a Fundamental Right, Justice Dept. Argues,” Christian Post

Joe Carter, “Homeschooling Not a Fundamental Right Says Justice Department,” Acton Institute

Michael Farris, “Sobering Thoughts from the Romeike Case,” Home School Legal Defense Association, which is representing the Romeikes

Rod Dreher, “Romeikes as Canaries in Coal Mines,” American Conservative


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  • Sadly, Germany’s anti-homeschooling law isn’t “unique in western Europe”. Homeschooling is also illegal in Sweden.

  • kierkegaard71

    I guess the central defining question would be which of the following positions you adopt: (1) children primarily belong to the State and parents serve as guardians of the children for the State; (2) children belong to parents and the State can only intervene in very exceptional circumstances between parents and children. I like positing the issue this way because it skirts the use of “rights” language, which is fairly malleable.

  • Alice

    This made me think of one of Libby Anne’s blog posts.
    She points out that there are three factors in this discussion: what is in the best interest of the children, the parents, and society. Quote: “Society has an interest in having children grow up to be healthy, stable, and productive adults. For this reason, society has an interest in protecting children’s rights from intrusion by their parents. This is why the state steps in in cases of educational neglect, physical abuse, or the withholding of medical problems. In some sense, the children’s rights are protected and guaranteed by the state, which serves as a check and balance against intrusions by parents.” End Quote.

    As someone who was home-schooled K-12, I don’t think home-schooling should be illegal, but I do believe that there needs to be more accountability so that children will not be denied the education they will need for their adult life, especially if they go on to college. YES, there are many home-schoolers who receive a better education than they would in a public school, and some public schools are terrible at educating children, BUT there are also home-schoolers who can barely read and write or who graduate high school with a junior-high understanding of math and science. Whether or not these cases are rare, it is a serious problem. There /can/ be other serious problems with home-schooling as well, problems that I am still trying to recover from, but I don’t think there is much the state can do to prevent them, so I won’t go into that.

    In my case, I could read well and write proper sentences from a young age, but I graduated high school with no clue how to write a paper. I also knew only basic pre-algebra and elementary-school level science, which took a toll on my ACT score even though my English scores were high. In college, I had to take 2 remedial classes and many hours of tutoring each week. Writing papers was always extremely difficult, and in science classes I managed to squeak by with low C’s. I am reasonably intelligent and worked very hard, so I was able to overcome those obstacles, but it took a lot of extra time and money. It was very frustrating, discouraging, and stressful to be behind. I wanted to quit many times, but my family supported me and I knew I needed a college degree. I realize college is difficult for everyone, no matter what their educational background is.

  • jdens

    But they don’t really belong to anyone. They’re not property. The responsibility for children’s care, however, rests both with the parents and with the wider society. From Germany’s point of view, it is irresponsible not to ensure that every child has an education of at least a certain minimum level. It seems to me that Germany is more concerned with the children’s rights–the right to go to school–than with parental rights to control their education. I see why that’s problematic for some, but I don’t think it’s terribly unreasonable.

  • jz131313

    Wow that’s just scary. Basically in Germany the government says you will send your kids to schools of our choosing, and they will be forced to learn what we tell you they must learn; otherwise, you will be fined, jailed, or have your children forcibly removed from you. No wonder the birthrate is so dismally low in Germany! Parents aren’t even allowed to raise their children according to their conscience. Scary….

  • plutosdad

    No, that misses the point, we all used to think “children belong to their parents”, going as far as parents had the “right” to the product of the children’s labor until their majority age.

    But now we know children don’t “belong” to anyone. They are not our little slaves, they have rights too. As such the parent or guardian are truly “guardians”, not “owners” of the children. And the parent’s rights do not supersede the child’s rights, we just don’t recognize children’s ability to maturely exercise all their rights.

    So in that respect, children have a right to education that will help them in society. For instance: in theory in the US we do not allow parents to simply remove them from school, but then not homeschool them at all, so they get no education. That would be a violation of the children’s rights to education, and the parents duty to educate them.

    But even that rule still violates the idea of “right of parents to raise their children according to their consciences”. So obviously there is a line somewhere where the parent’s do not have a right to raise their children according to their conscience, if that means violating certain rules. If their conscience actually goes against the child’s right to education and safety. The children’s rights must trump the parent’s rights, because it’s the child’s life and future.

  • A

    The bible tells us parents are responsible for training their children…I just can’t remember where…and don’t be guilty of not praying for them is in there, too.

  • jdens

    You mean the Proverb, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it? Yes, it’s common sense that parents ordinarily and primarily have the responsibility to bring up their children to become decent, responsible adults. Don’t think anyone’s arguing differently. From Germany’s perspective, it is shirking that responsiblity to deprive your children of education that meets society’s basic standards.

  • Elise Ehrhard

    I believe homeschooling is also illegal in Spain. If Germany is so concerned about the children, they can just have some basic testing requirements for homeschooled children just as they do in my state of Virginia. They can check that the children know how to read and write at a basic level without intruding on the parents’ rights.

  • I’m glad that homeschooling is allowed in America–I’m also glad it’s regulated–but if it weren’t allowed, I don’t think that would be the particular issue that would send me running to the ACLU. For one thing, even if children are forced to attend public or “government supervised” schools, they remain in their parents’ care most of the time, and parents remain free to inculcate in them whatever religious/cultural/political beliefs they choose; I believe that, even in Germany, parents can take their kids to church, or read the Bible with them every evening. I have nothing against homeschoolers: they are, I’m sure, mostly devout and sincere people–except on the rare occasions when they’re paranoid, cultish, and perhaps even abusive. There’s more than one point of view here: you could say that homeschooling parents are trying to shield their children from corrupting influences and false beliefs, or you could say they’re trying to indoctrinate their children and keep them from learning to think for themselves.

  • sg

    Many states here ensure kids are getting at least a certain minimum level of education by requiring homeschooling parents to have their children take standardized tests. Germany could easily just choose to regulate homeschooling like lots of states here do. They don’t want to make that cheap and easy accommodation, so it is pretty unconvincing that Germany’s interest is just ensuring kids can read and do math.

  • sg

    I think it is more about the fourth commandment and the authority of parents.

    In this commandment belongs a further statement regarding all kinds of obedience to persons in authority who have to command and to govern. For all authority flows and is propagated from the authority of parents. For where a father is unable alone to educate his [rebellious and irritable] child, he employs a schoolmaster to instruct him; if he be too weak, he enlists the aid of his friends and neighbors; if he departs this life, he delegates and confers his authority and government upon others who are appointed for the purpose. 142] Likewise, he must have domestics, man-servants and maid-servants, under himself for the management of the household, so that all whom we call masters are in the place of parents and must derive their power and authority to govern from them. Hence also they are all called fathers in the Scriptures, as those who in their government perform the functions of a father, and should have a paternal heart toward their subordinates. As also from antiquity the Romans and other nations called the masters and mistresses of the household patres- et matres- familiae, that is, housefathers and housemothers. So also they called their national rulers and overlords patres patriae, that is, fathers of the entire country, for a great shame to us who would be Christians that we do not likewise call them so, or, at least, do not esteem and honor them as such.

  • sg

    I think sometimes that homeschooling parents tend to teach what they like. I like math and science, so that is what I emphasize. Consequently my son has great math and science scores. If it weren’t for his own initiative to study literature and history, he would probably be 4th grade level. So, I hear ya. Requiring standardized testing could be a good idea because it helps parents see their students more objectively. I always made my son take standardized tests at least once every two years just to be on the safe side.

  • Chris Buchholz

    Yes, those requirements mean parents cannot simply raise their child “according to their conscience”, but rather there is a line we draw that the parents cannot cross.
    So, just because Germany draws that line in a different place than the US does, does not mean Germany does not recognize parents rights less. Parents are still allowed to raise their children as they see fit, all parents have pretty much exclusive access to their children when not in school.

  • Allison Koons

    In 1925 the U.S. government actually argued before the Supreme Court justices that all children are the states children (Pierce v. Society of Sisters). The government was trying to criminalize those who didn’t comply with their mandate to enroll all children in government schools. Thankfully, the Catholic Church stood and fought to defend the right to educate according to their faith…and won…which is why we have a choice today.

    The government’s education system we have today was founded upon the beliefs that the government is responsible for educating its citizens and that it should be done without religious bias. Unfortunately, these ideas were not based on truth and have led to tremendous consequences. God didn’t create the government for the purpose of educating. The government was created to protect our ability to educate…to train, teach, and equip children in wisdom and truth. Sure, many will choose a different path, but that’s a choice God gave us the freedom to make.

    Relativism, atheism, etc. is no substitute for truth, however it’s a worldview nonetheless. All teaching is belief-based…meaning a ‘church’ of thinking is in authority in all teaching. The question is which one. And the choice is one that parents (and teachers) are responsible for making ourselves.

  • sg

    Actually not all states regulate it. Texas does not. There are no reporting or testing requirements in Texas. There is no oversight at all.

  • Allison Koons

    Thomas Sowell’s latest article has great points that relate to this if anyone’s interested…

  • Seth

    I am a teacher and a foster parent. There is, at a fundamental level, a huge power play going on in wider society about who gets to be the ones to “make our children” in their own image – the parents or society. The lines have been blurred because of so many widespread and awful examples of terrible neglectful and abusive parenting that have forced society to feel like it must intervene. Then that leads us to asking questions like, what about when its not a safety issue but a mental health or educational health issue? There is no definitive line, so there is no easy answer for anyone. If society were to intervene in every case of less than ideal parenting, it would have to intervene with everybody’s kids.

    Ultimately, we will be forced to choose – either parents have ultimate authority over their kids, or society does.

    As one who works every day with kids other people have walked out on, I have to say even in the most dire of situations, we have to acknowledge the original creators of the life as the owners of the life. It is a messy and unfortunate, uncontrollable answer that I myself do not even like. But it is the only one I can manage to conclude.

  • Seth

    I would like to admit that you are correct in saying “they are not property.” But nothing in life bears that out, not even our legal documents.

  • Well, right. “Property” can mean a range of things. Children are not the property of their parents in the sense of being disposable chattels; a parent cannot chop them up and use them for firewood, like you might chop up a chair when times get tough. But children are very much property in the sense that they are proper to, pertain to, their parents. Parents certainly have all manner of broad rights, responsibilities, and authority over their children. Those prerogatives are built into the relationship that is to be oriented toward the good of the children. The state’s existence is secondary to the family’s – it is families that unite to form a state, not a state the divides itself into administrative units called families. The authority of the state to intervene in the private life of a family is therefore to be strictly limited.

    Prussian-led Germany, though, is not, nor has it ever been, a liberal democracy predicated upon the liberty of its members. In this radical intervention into the private sphere, we see that the spirit of Bismarck and the Kaisers is still very much alive, even if it takes on the forms of a republic.

  • Melody

    Would you have more of a problem with it if you knew it was a law left on the books from the Nazi Regime? They really were not concerned with educating the children but with separating them from the influence of their parents.