“Diplomas Play No Role For Us”: The Case of the Wunderlichs, by Jennifer Stahl
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jennifer Stahl’s blog Yeshua, Hineni. It was originally published on September 16, 2013 with the title, “German Homeschooling Case – The Wunderlichs.”
I’ve just finished getting myself caught up with the issue of sects in Germany who try to home-school and have had run ins with the law. Generally, but not always, the HSLDA has has been meddling in Germany with these issues rather than let people hash out the Constitutional law within the courts and appealing to the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe.
For what it is worth, I was home-schooled from the sixth grade forward under the Home School Legal Defense Association umbrella. (1993-1999)
I do not believe in breaking the law to do whatever you want. You have to lobby to have the laws changed.
You have to argue, within the court system that Constitutional law is antiquated and argue that the law must be changed so that you can work within it; if that is what you truly believe.
However, in the last decade or so, many sects of Christian home-schoolers who have been pressing the issue have been doing many things to place their children in danger; giving sub-par education, little or no medical attention; living the life of isolationists — which has caused the government to be well within rights to be breathing down their necks or taking their children into foster care.
The problem here is, Germany looks at issues like this as if it were a family matter. It’s more than looking at it as a purely domestic matter that any German allies can weigh in on. This doesn’t concern other court systems in the EU, and the European Court of Human Rights has already weighed in on German Homeschooling cases. It doesn’t concern allies, such as the United States.
You also have to remember that while Germany’s treatment of groups with cultish or extremist sectarian beliefs sometimes amount to “discrimination” in many of our allies eyes, its laws must be seen the context of its history and the fear of political as well as religious extremism. We are finding more and more, that people who do separate themselves out of society do tend to trend towards both religious and political extremism.
This does not at all exclude or include the cases that the HSLDA has been weighing in on.
With this in mind, you have to know that there are around 400 Homeschooling families in Germany if the HSLDA is to be believed. Schuzh says it is closer to 500 families. This also counts the Romeike Family, The Wunderlichs and the families of the Zwölf Stämme, which I have discussed before.
This blog, however, states the numbers are rather questionable:
How many Germans ignore German laws on compulsory education, can not be measured as most parents simply [home-school in secret] or emigrate in secret. Stefanie Mohsennia knows about 200 free-learning German families and speculates that there are currently over 1,000 families in Germany who do not send their children to school. “There are always more.” says Stefanie Mohsennia…Leben im Untergrund – Homeschooling-Familien in Deutschland [Living underground – Home-schooling families in Germany]
As far as what the European Human Rights Court has to say:
[The German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe] refused to admit the applicant’s constitutional complaint because it had already dealt with the decisive constitutional issues in its settled case-law.
…[The EU Human Rights Court] notes that there exists a difference of treatment between the applicant’s children and… children [who] were physically unfit …or… [whose] parents move around the country…
… the Court finds that the above distinctions justifies a difference of treatment.
Konrad and Others v. Germany
Konrad v. Germany also makes it clear that Germany’s “Basic Law” guarantees “the right to establish private schools.” The state does therefore not have a monopoly on education, only the right to regulate it.
Locus Standi: International Human Rights and Home schooling
Yet, when the news did break in American papers about the Wunderlich family last year, and this year – everything became sensationalized, and suddenly there is a lot of fear-mongering and lies being spread about how the compulsory schooling laws came into place, and why they came into place in Germany. [To clarify: It has been repeated quite often that these laws came into place when the NSDAP was in power and we’re very “Nazi” for not repealing them.] It’s made me physically ill that this is being said over and over through right-leaning news, and therefore disseminated to other Christians.
I literally have relatives that are terrified that I am suddenly surrounded by an up and coming Fourth Reich.
Why don’t we have a look and see why?
“The education administration in future will also not recognize so-called homeschooling and act in proportionate measure considering the individual case and circumstances.””
WND: Government declares war on homeschooling parents (2006)
“A copy of the report justifying immediate seizure of the children was obtained by HSLDA. The reasons given for the seizure were that the children were ‘socially isolated,’ not in school and that there was a ‘flight risk,’ – none of which appear to be true,” the report said.
The family fled Germany because of a series of fines imposed for homeschooling and the concern that German authorities inside Germany would take custody of the children.
WND: French police grab 4 kids on German orders (2009)
Wunderlich said the Jugendamt “told me that the children must go to school.”
“We are very saddened by the way our country treats us,” he said. “Our nerves are black and short, and we are very tired by the pressure.
“I don’t understand my own country. What are we doing wrong? We are just doing what should be allowed to anyone.”
WND: State takes custody of children over socialization (2012)
Within days of the family registering their presence in Darmstadt, authorities initiated a criminal truancy case, and just months later city’s ‘Youth Welfare Office’ was granted legal custody of the children.
The Daily Mail UK: Armed Police turn up at family home wiht a battering ram to sieze their children after they defy Germany’s ban on homeschooling
After the children were taken, authorities “invited” the parents to a meeting with social workers. They were told they were not even being allowed an immediate court hearing on the status of the children.
WND: Police storm homeschool class, take children by force
Petra Wunderlich said her heart was shattered. “We are empty,” she said. “We need help. We are fighting but we need help.”
Life Site News: ‘We are empty’: Police storm German homeschooling family’s house, seize children
In an interview in Berlin last year, Dirk Wunderlich said he was prepared to go to jail rather than send his children to school. “But I’m not afraid of this,” he said. “I’m only sad for my family. I will go (to jail) laughing. You can do what you want, but my children will not go to school.”
CBN: German Officials Abduct Homeschooled Kids from Parents
…Failing to find employment, Mr. Wunderlich last year had to bring the family back to their home country of Germany. Within days the “Youth Welfare Office” was granted legal custody of their children on the grounds of criminal truancy.
…The Wunderlich family’s experience foreshadows an ominous future for other German homeschooling families… and … raise concerns about the freedom of families in all free nations…
CrossMap: Government Seizes German Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s Homeschooling Children—Whose Kids Are They?
On their return, German authorities began a criminal truancy case against them and the children were placed in the custody of the Darmstadt Youth Welfare Office. Authorities found the children to be well treated… but seized the children’s passports to prevent the family from leaving the country.
CNA: German raid on home-schooling family draws condemnation
The court order allowed the police the use of force against both parents and children; it stated that the children had “adopted the parent’s opinions” regarding homeschooling, and that “no cooperation could be expected” from either the parents or the children.
Gatestone Institute: Europe: Treating Homeschoolers Like Terrorists
The Wunderlich’s lawyers will argue their case on the basis that the current education law is too vague. They are also arguing on the basis of the international treaties Germany has signed, since they appear to be violating those treaty obligations. HSLDA is helping support the Wunderlich’s lawyers… Although the Wunderlichs are hoping for a court date in September, they are still waiting.
The American Conservative: German Children Seized From Parents for Crime of Homeschooling
HSLDA lawyer Michael Donnelly said that when child protective systems in countries such as a Germany– which “claims to be a ‘liberal democracy’ committed to pluralism and human rights – allows for police raids to take children from otherwise good families who are providing a home education, liberty is at risk everywhere.”
WND: Homeschool case focal point for hate mail
What do the Wunderlichs think about this, themselves? Well, let’s hear it in their own words:
In 2005, our first child Machsejah reached the age of compulsory school attendance. We started home schooling from then on. At that time, war with the education agency began… A civil fine was levied. Then we were sued. We were found guilty of violating the compulsory school attendance statute and a monetary penalty was imposed. That was in 2008.
Interview with Dirk Wunderlich through the HEDUA Part 1
Our complete and no-holds-barred rejection of the institution of the school is reflected by exactly this argument. Even if public schools would align themselves with our beliefs and other educational ideas at the 100% level (without compromise whatsoever), we still would not send our children to school. The reason is that we are convinced that God’s intentions and plans for us cannot be realized within the artificial setting of school.
Interview with Dirk Wunderlich through the HEDUA Part 2
I do agree that there are issues with how certain sects of Christianity (and even Scientology) that homeschool are handled in Germany. We’ve seen how this plays out with the court cases involving the Zwölf Stämme. There are sometimes gaps in information between the courts, or the Jugendamt is sometimes slow to enforce the Schulpflicht or fines for not sending your children to school.
As far as the Wunderlich family goes, things are clearly not on the up and up. They were told by the state and each city seat that they’ve lived in that they can not continue to homeschool. They continued irregardless.
They’ve come out openly laughing in the face of the government. They’ve said that they’re happy to go to jail and lose custody of their children so that they can create a separatist faith movement and parallel society from their own home.
They’ve moved from city to city, and when that wasn’t working; they left the country. This raises questions. I don’t know what all questions this raises, but it certainly leaves holes in information that can lead one to many conclusions, of which, I am not ready to make any.
All the news articles I’ve read in English (from Fox, The Blaze, World Net Daily, CBN, World Mag and others) so far show very clearly that the authors know next to nothing about Germany, German law, German society at large, or the German educational system and its history. Instead, they’re happy to perpetuate myths and simply assume the police is this evil entity, because surely the HSLDA would not lie.
The information that I can find says that the court has found “The welfare of children is at risk. The children have not been receiving the education that would have been age-expected.” This is enough to create concern in a nation full of over-acheivers who look for everyone to at least meet age-expected educational goals.
This sets a whole lot of questions flying. I do not know what to make of that. Does this mean that the children are now learning above their age grade, or that they are falling behind? I do not know.
Let’s see how the German news is handling this:
… the parents refuse any school system: “There is, however, compulsory education, the parents can not escape.” It does not mean just education, but also about social interaction and involvement that allows other world views to be heard. The children have been placed in a juvenile facility after a confirmed judicial decision by the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt am Main. All attempts at discussion to reach an amicable agreement with the parents, during the summer holidays have been unsuccessful.
Idea: Jugendamt nimmt Christen die Kinder weg [Child Protective Services take Christian children away]
…“Diplomas play no role for us. Our goal is heaven.” “Our family belongs to no specific Christian denomination, we are simply believers.” Dirk [Wunderlich] attended the Kreis Bergstraße’s Odenwald school, and he emphasizes the importance of Jesus Christ for himself and his family…
Echo: Schulpflicht: Jugendamt verteidigt Trennung von ElternSorgerecht – Vier Kinder aus Wembach werden schrittweise auf Schulbesuch vorbereitet [Compulsory education: Youth Office defends separation of parents from children. Custody – Four children from Wembach to be gradually prepared for school]
Side note here: The Odenwaldschule [where Dirk Wunderlich attended] was known for a huge scandal that went down where the children were being sexually abused by some of the teachers. There was also mentioned of physical discipline being carried out. (It’s mentioned here in German, but not in the English Wikipedia article. You can find more here, here and here.)
This is not insinuating anything about the family, but giving additional information that is not readily knowable to people who do not live in this area.
I know others who went to this school and nothing ever happened to them, and they are just as shocked as the rest of us that anything happened there. As far as the education at the school goes, it was one of the best in the area.
…Parents are of the Christian faith and have hermetically sealed off their children from the outside world. They will have also refused to let the children be taught at a state-recognized private Christian school, reports the “Hessischer Rundfunk”…
…Evangelical Christians fight especially hard for the right to homeschool. They want their children to be kept away from worldly influences and try to educate them in their strict faith-driven world view…
Spiegel: Schulverweigerer in Hessen: Polizei holt Kinder aus streng religiöser Familie [Truants in Hessen: Police bring children from a strictly religious family]
“If and when the children return to their parents, it is still unclear,” says Frank Horneff. In fact, the family will have to wait a while until a decision on their possible reunification. The District Court of Darmstadt intends to have the parents in for a hearing at the end of September.
Die Welt: Behandelt, “als wäre ich ein Terrorist” [Treated “as if I were a terrorist”]
For the time being, this is the only news coming out, other than from Der Blaue Brief which is linked to the HSLDA and other homeschool groups in Germany.
However, I do want to point out some very integral things that are not much discussed when it concerns Christian sects that wish to homeschool here in Germany. There are passages in Scripture that suggest that Christians are to take an unassuming, blameless lifestyle wherever we find ourselves; unless that government is causing them to break commandments in the Bible. Especially concerning our witness to those who do not believe as we do.
It is my full belief that breaking the law to do something you are convicted to do — especially something that is not commanded by G-d explicitly in the Bible — is a terribly bad idea.
Frequently moving around to escape the law, leaving the country when the court catches up to you, and hiding your children from the world is terribly suspicious, and not something the Bible commands.
Meddling in another country’s affairs to subvert the government (speaking of the HSLDA here, which is an American Homeschool Legal Defense Association), is also not a really good idea.
Especially when the Human Rights Courts of the EU have already twice made a ruling on similar cases, and the Constitutional Court of said country you are meddling in said “No, this is not happening and here is why.”
On the heels of the Wunderlich case, we have issues with abuses that have been uncovered by the Zwölf Stämme. My question here is: what kind of parenting methods are going on in the Wunderlich home that we might maybe need know about? (Remember, Corporal Punishment is illegal in Germany and has been for over a decade.) Also, why is the HSLDA so very invested in Germany, and constantly sending funds back and forth to keep the courts here spinning?
Why are Americans being called upon to support these families, and why is the HSLDA lying about what is happening?
What exactly are they helping to hide, besides these families squirreling away their children and teaching them that the government is out to steal and destroy their souls? Why are these families so afraid of the readily available Christian education?
There are so many questions here, many, which I feel will not be further answered until we hear more from the different court cases as they go forward.
I’m sorry that the families have been separated, but I can see where this is something that had to take place considering how blatantly the Wunderlichs are in their defiance of German law, and how happy they are to make themselves out as martyrs. I hope that the children can see their parents, but I pray that we do not find out that there has been any physical or psychological abuse going on as we’ve heard from a few other homeschool groups. (As mentioned in the documentary above, and in the case with the Zwölf Stämmen)
There don’t seem to be very many answers to this issue at the moment.