Earlier this month, a German teen-ager was forcibly taken from her parents and imprisoned in a psychiatric ward. Her crime? She is being home-schooled.
On Feb. 1, 15 German police officers forced their way into the home of the Busekros family in the Bavarian town of Erlangen. They hauled off 16-year-old Melissa, the eldest of the six Busekros children, to a psychiatric ward in nearby Nuremberg. Last week, a court affirmed that Melissa has to remain in the Child Psychiatry Unit because she is suffering from “school phobia.”
Home-schooling has been illegal in Germany since Adolf Hitler outlawed it in 1938 and ordered all children to be sent to state schools. The home-schooling community in Germany is tiny. As Hitler knew, Germans tend to obey orders unquestioningly. Only some 500 children are being home-schooled in a country of 80 million. Home-schooling families are prosecuted without mercy.
Last March, a judge in Hamburg sentenced a home-schooling father of six to a week in prison and a fine of $2,000. Last September, a Paderborn mother of 12 was locked up in jail for two weeks. The family belongs to a group of seven ethnic German families who immigrated to Paderborn from the former Soviet Union. The Soviets persecuted them because they were Baptists. An initiative of the Paderborn Baptists to establish their own private school was rejected by the German authorities. A court ruled that the Baptists showed “a stubborn contempt both for the state’s educational duty as well as the right of their children to develop their personalities by attending school.”
All German political parties, including the Christian Democrats of Chancellor Angela Merkel, are opposed to home-schooling. They say that “the obligation to attend school is a civil obligation, that cannot be tampered with.” The home-schoolers receive no support from the official (state funded) churches, either. These maintain that home-schoolers “isolate themselves from the world” and that “freedom of religion does not justify opposition against the obligation to attend school.” Six decades after Hitler, German politicians and church leaders still do not understand true freedom: that raising children is a prerogative of their fathers and mothers and not of the state, which is never a benevolent parent and often an enemy.
Hermann Stucher, a pedagogue who called upon Christians to withdraw their children from the state schools which, he says, have fallen into the hands of “neo-Marxist activists,” has been threatened with prosecution for “Hochverrat und Volksverhetzung” (high treason and incitement of the people against the authorities). The fierceness of the authorities’ reaction is telling. The dispute is about the hearts and minds of the children. In Germany, schools have become vehicles of indoctrination, where children are brought up to unquestioningly accept the authority of the state in all areas of life. It is no coincidence that people who have escaped Soviet indoctrination discern what the government is doing in the schools and are sufficiently concerned to want to protect their children from it.
What is worrying is that most “free-born” Germans accept this assault on their freedom as normal and eye parents who opt out of the state system with suspicion.
The situation is hardly better at the European level. Last September, the European Court of Human Rights supported Hitler’s 1938 schooling bill. The Strasburg-based court, whose verdicts apply in the entire European Union, ruled that the right to education “by its very nature calls for regulation by the State.” It upheld the finding of German courts: “Schools represent society, and it is in the children’s interest to become part of that society. The parents’ right to educate does not go so far as to deprive their children of that experience.”
While it is disquieting that Europeans have not learned the lessons from their dictatorial past — upholding Nazi laws and sending dissidents, including children, to psychiatric wards, as the Soviets used to do — there is reason for Americans to worry, too. The United Nations is also restricting the rights of parents. Article 29 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that it is the goal of the state to direct the education of children. In Belgium, the U.N. Convention is currently being used to limit the constitutional right to home-school. In 1995 Britain was told that it violated the U.N. Convention by allowing parents to remove their children from public school sex-education classes.
Last year, the American Home School Legal Defense Association warned that the U.N. Convention could make home-schooling illegal in America, even though the Senate has never ratified it. Some lawyers and liberal politicians in the states claim that U.N. conventions are “customary international law” and should be considered part of American jurisprudence.
At present, young Melissa Busekros’ ordeal is a German horror story. Could it soon be an American one?
Paul Belien is editor of the Brussels Journal and an adjunct fellow of the Hudson Institute.