- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

It may come as a surprise to American home-schoolers that other nations, especially in Europe, are persecuting parents who decide to educate children at home, using a wide array of punitive actions.

A religious community I recently visited in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, believes strongly in living as the earliest Christians did as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. The Twelve Tribes live a life of simplicity and hard work, follow a moral code of sexual purity before marriage and faithfulness within marriage. They run organic farms, own cottage industries to create natural skin-care products, own natural foods restaurants and health food stores, and preserve the artisanship that seems to be increasingly rare in our mass-production-based world.

Part of their creed involves separating from the worldly influences that distract and often work against the values they strive to live by. They avoid movies and television, and make their own clothes to keep a modest and pure appearance. They also believe strongly in schooling their children at home.

With communities all over the world, the Twelve Tribes have been frequent targets of controversy, as their teachings may differ from the legal structure of the various nations where they live.

In 2001, the families of the Twelve Tribes community in Bavaria, Germany, were fined 2,000 euros per school-age child for home-schooling their children. Over the next five years, the families endured a nightmare of legal and financial coercion aimed at forcing them to send their children to state schools.

Despite open and repeated invitations to all the education authorities to observe the educational process and standards of the families, the German government refused to honor the parents’ rights. Germany’s revenue service attempted to confiscate the families’ funds and possessions. Numerous appeals to the courts were denied. Criminal charges were filed against the parents for not registering the children for public school, and they were convicted. The fathers were jailed for six to 16 days at a prison in Augsburg. The mothers — three with nursing infants — were facing jail time as well. The fines alone amounted to more than 150,000 euros.

Finally, Ministry of Education officials visited and observed the families’ teaching, books and material. By this time, the situation had become a major human rights issue. Under the German constitution, the freedoms of religion, conscience and parental rights are guaranteed. In February, the ministry struck a compromise in which the Twelve Tribes community could set up a private school in lieu of sending their children to a state school.

It may seem unbelievable that in this day and age, flagrant abuses of human rights by a democratically elected government would go on. However, the nature of human conscience is that it follows a set of principles far more strict than any external legal structure — and sometimes, conflicting with those laws. It is inevitable that those who seek to raise children according to a higher law sometimes would be misunderstood. We are not that far removed from the pogroms, inquisitions and religious persecutions of the past.

In fact, that is a very good reason for families to choose to educate their children. Only when we are vigilant in passing along the deep sense of conscience and faith that underlies the system of governance that we call democracy will the next generations be able to avoid the twin threats of anarchy and oppression.

I invite parents to explore the model being created by the Twelve Tribes on its Web site, www.twelvetribes.com.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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