I read an article written by Michael Farris, the founder and chair of HSLDA – the Home School Legal Defense Association. In it he discussed the case made by government lawyers representing Attorney General Eric Holder during the court hearing for the Romeike family. You may remember the Romeike’s sought political asylum in the United States due to Germany’s persecution of homeschooling families. A federal district court judge granted the Romikes asylum here against the wishes of the Federal government. The government appealed that decision to the Board of Immigration appeals and won. HSLDA appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals where the case (Romeike v. Holder) will be heard.
Farris outlined three arguments made by the U.S. Department of Justice lawyers which should be of concern to American homeschooling families:
He said the first argument in essence is that a government isn’t violating anyone’s rights if homeschooling is banned altogether.
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.)…
…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.
Farris noted the DOJ’s 2nd argument was that the Romeikes failed to show there was discrimination based on religion since not all homeschooling families are Christian, and not every Christian believes they have 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.
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.
A third argument that DOJ made was that the Romeikes did not meet the standard of being part of a social group with “immutable” characteristics that can’t change and should not be required to change. They said the Romeikes could choose not to homeschool and send their children to public school and then teach from home since their children would have only been in school for 22-26 hours during the week.
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.
Those of us who homeschool should be concerned because the Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder, in the government’s arguments essentially said that he believes that a law that bans homeschooling would violate no fundamental liberties.
Photo by Ryan J. Reilly (CC by 3.0)