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EDITORIAL: Learning at the point of a gun

Two German cases reveal tyrants in the schoolhouse door

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Government bureaucrats in a lot of places can't abide allowing parents to educate their children. Public schools offer an irresistible opportunity to mold the young in a government-approved image, exposing young minds to the ideological fads of the moment, whether terrifying them with tales of melting icebergs or uplifting them with stories of Heather and her two heroic mommies. It's a compassion some officials are willing to enforce at gunpoint.

Police armed with a battering ram descended on the home of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich in Darmstadt, Germany, on the morning of Aug. 29, snatching four children, ranging in age from 7 to 14. The Wunderlichs were guilty of educating their children at home. The Virginia-based Home School Legal Defense Association says the children "are still in custody with no return date any time soon, and they have not been in contact with the parents."

The Wunderlichs have been resisting the requirement, enacted in Hitler time, that all children submit to being educated only in the public schools. Mr. Wunderlich says the police treated him like a terrorist. "It was like a scene out of a science-fiction movie. Our neighbors and children have been traumatized by this invasion."

The Wunderlich case lends urgency to the legal appeal of Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, a German home-schooling family that fled to Tennessee and seeks permanent asylum in the United States. The Romeikes left their native country in 2008 because they wanted to school their six children at home, something they couldn't do under a German law that dates from 1938. In 2010, a federal immigration judge granted the family's request for political refuge in the United States. "The [German] government is attempting to enforce this Nazi-era law against people that it purely seems to detest because of their desire to keep their children out of school," U.S. Immigration Judge Lawrence Burman wrote.

The Justice Department's Board of Immigration Appeals overturned Judge Burman's ruling in May 2012 at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that Germany's ban on home schooling doesn't violate the Romeikes' human rights and that therefore they don't qualify for political asylum. The Romeikes' appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was denied, and a further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is under preparation.

The Romeikes are afraid that they, too, could lose custody of their children if their bid for asylum is rejected and they are forced to return to Germany. Home-schoolers in America have been bombarding the Facebook page of the German Embassy in Washington, pleading for the Berlin government to reconsider. "How can Germany claim to stand amongst other free democracies," asks one of them, "when they violate the rights of their own citizens to educate their children as they see fit?"

Chancellor Angela Merkel should intervene so that families like the Romeikes and the Wunderlichs wouldn't have to choose between their rights and their children. Closer to home, the Obama administration should abandon the effort to deport families whose only crime is giving their kids the best education they can, and at home.

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