After row over schools, German seeks asylum in US

April 5th, 2009 - 9:00 am ICT by IANS  

By Sophie von Puttkamer
Washington, April 5 (DPA) Asylum seekers in the US normally come from places like Iran, Myanmar or Africa. But Uwe Romeike is an unusual case.

The 37-year-old’s home was in an idyllic German village of 3,000 outside Stuttgart, more known for its peaceful surroundings than political persecution.

“I feel politically persecuted,” he said in an interview in German from his new home in Tennessee, where he fled to several months ago with his wife and five children, aged 3 to 11.

For Romeike, asylum is not a political issue and he does not face opposition from the government in Berlin. Rather, it is a matter of religion, Christian values and the right to raise his children outside what he calls the “un-Christian” German school system.

The Romeike case, now before a US immigration judge, raises questions in both countries about political persecution and religious rights. The first hearing was Thursday, but it will likely take months for the case to be resolved.

Romeike and his wife, Hannelore, want to educate their children at home - a common practice in the US, but one that is strictly forbidden in Germany, where all children are required by law to attend schools to ensure that education meets the same standards and gives every child the same opportunities.

The drama began in 2006, Romeike told DPA, when the couple could no longer tolerate the “un-Christian goings-on” at their children’s school. “The lessons are neither Christian nor value neutral,” Romeike said. “In reality, the children were being educated in an anti-Christian worldview.”

He complains of lessons and school books with obscene phrases, curses and blasphemy. “It was more about vampires and witches than God,” he said, noting that it was too much for a serious Christian to tolerate.

That year, the family pulled its three oldest children from their elementary school. For a month, they taught the children at home, with Romeike, a pianist, conducting lessons for his children in the morning and teaching his music students in the afternoon.

“Then the police came to our door,” he remembers with fear and anger.

“At first we simply did not want to open the door,” said Romeike. “Then they threatened to kick in the door, so I opened it.”

He said he watched helplessly as police took the crying children to school, but we “couldn’t resist”.

He describes the month of home schooling as a positive time, with the entire family together all day. The children also enjoyed learning at home, he said.

The school’s principal urged the family to send the children to school, authorities threatened with fines and prison, and even the mayor got involved.

The family’s defiance grew and they were brought to court, where they lost their case. Yet even that did not change the father’s mind, although he admitted, “I was afraid I would have to go to prison”.

Then came the call from the US. Lawyer Michael Donnelly from the Home School Legal Defence Association had heard about the case. The organisation supports the 1.5 million children who are taught at home by their parents in the US, many for religious reasons or as an alternative to poor quality public schools.

Donnelly said the practice was a growing trend in the US and he wanted to help the German family be able to raise their children as they saw fit.

So in August 2008, Romeike sold his beloved piano and rented out the family home. They fled to the US, moving to Morristown, Tennessee.

“Here we finally have the freedom that we did not have in Germany,” he said. “Our new neighbours are also home schoolers.”

In order to stay in the country, the Romeikes have applied for political asylum. Donnelly said it is unclear how authorities will view the application as it is the first such case in the US.

The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin said it did not want to weigh in on an ongoing court case. But a spokesman said every citizen is free to emigrate to another country. “It is the job of the responsible US authorities to decide if a German citizen is allowed to stay or not,” he said.

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