Germany, Homeschooling and the Separation of Church and State
Germany has a population of approximately 80 million, with an estimated 500 homeschooled children. This, of course, is because homeschooling in Germany is illegal. In her post, Homeschooling In Germany, Spunky outlines a recent case of a family in Hamburg who have fled in the face of losing their children due to their conviction to homeschool. Commenter Toasty questions the article, pointing out that losing custody comes only at the end of a lengthy process in which "serious wrongdoing of the parents has to be proven." I cannot speak to the specifics of this case at the moment as I can only find the same article printed in numerous places, but as a general principle, Toasty is correct. However, I must also add here that the very act of homeschooling is seen not only as abuse but as "High Treason and Incitement to Rebel Against Authorities," clearly grounds for removal from the home. The only way for a child to develop normally, according to German courts, is in school. Here is an outline of the process, from a family in Bavaria. Their ending was somewhat more postive, at least for now:

First, the family is fined repeatedly. These fines generally become increasingly larger, beginning at over $2,500 per child. These children were forced by police to attend school, before school officials even came to visit the homes. The fathers were arrested. The "lengthy" process began in October 2001 with the first fine and finally ended somewhat postively in February of 2006 when the community was allowed to set up its own private school. These so-called private schools are heavily regulated in Germany and must comply with the same state standards as public schools, with continual risk of losing their license to operate.

After escorting the children to school (with parents accompanying them) police guard the exit.

The families cited in this particular case belong to "Zwölf Stämme" or "Twelve Tribes." In Germany, this is recognized as one of many "pseudo-Chrisitian" cult groups. Twelve Tribes has been in the news a lot recently due to this case and the fact that they all home educate. The discussion of homeschooling in Germany really cannot continue without an understanding of what it means to be a cult in Germany because 1) almost all homeschooling families in Germany do so for religious reasons and 2) they are all generally viewed as being members of a cult.

Germany has two official state churches, the Evangelical Church and the Catholic Church. These churches are state funded, and have been involved in numerous court battles over the years against other religious groups who do not share the same ideology. In Spring 1996, the German Parliament set up an Enquiry Commission to oversee so-called "sects and psycho cults" whose aims were psychological rather than religious. This is headed by representatives from the state churches who have an obvious interest in limiting the influence of other religious groups, and now have the power to have them completely marginalized. Everything outside of these two churches thus tends to be viewed as a cult, from the scientologists to the Southern Baptists. And, of course, Twelve Tribes, a Christian group which tends to be messianic in nature and is most recognized for their communal living.

The official stance of the state churches of course supports the state. Reinhard Hempelmann, a spokesman of the Evangelical Church in Berlin, has said that homeschoolers isolate themselves from the world and the traditional churches. Alfred Buss, President of the Evangelical Church in Westphalia has said that freedom of religion does not justify opposition against the obligation to attend school.

When the "wall of separation" between church and state does not exist and the state is allowed to have control of the church, it becomes little more than a spokesperson for the state. Our churches are not state funded, but if they claim non-profit status they do receive tax breaks. Hence, they are not allowed to engage in any sort of campaign activity...such as encouraging the congregation to vote for a particular candidate. To ensure compliance, groups such as the Mainstream Coalition send out volunteers to monitor sermons in conservative churches and report what they view as violations. And the IRS has been increasing its scrutiny of late. Interesting development in a nation which is supposed to maintain the independence of the church from the state, whose first immigrants were fleeing the persecution of state-controlled churches, whose first political text book was the bible and whose principles of liberty were first delivered at the pulpit.

Update: I changed this slightly. Home Education Magazine discussed this entry on their News and Commentary page and noted that not all homeschoolers in Germany do so for religious reasons, which is true. It is considered largely a religious phenomenon, however. By including the German name of "Twelve Tribes," I did not mean to imply they were German. But their name is mentioned in almost every article I have read on homeschooling in Germany because they all homeschool. This isn't really about that particular group and I don't view them as a poster child for mainstream evangelical Christianity. They have had difficulty here in the US, as well, but in general, we view varying denominations, sub groups and even cults differently than in Germany. That is really just a difference in worldview that I find interesting and I am not in any way trying to influence what Germany does within its own borders with regards to homeshooling or religious groups. For anyone interested, here is a link to a group here that does define them as a cult and tries to give help to members/ex members. To be clear, the two state churches are not the only two "legal" religions but they do exert considerable control. There are many denominations and sub-groups, but many do tend to be viewed as cultic in nature. Even in the case of scientology, which I agree is a cult, the US gives wide allowance to its practice so long as nothing actually illegal takes place. The liberty given to people to worship as they see fit is more ingrained in our culture and I view that as a positive characteristic in the US. It is different in other nations, and while that is their affair and not mine, I do find it interesting. Particularly when many of the same arguments against homeschooling used here are used in Germany. For a good, fairly neutral article on homeschooling, try this one from Deutsche Welle. It discusses the approximate 200 families homeschooling that authorities turn a blind eye to, the 40 cases in the court system, the appeal to the Court of Human Rights and a thought that things may change in the future for German homeschoolers.

Homeschooling in Germany is not a "battle" I've chosen to fight. It is an issue I find interesting because I lived there for two years, have friends there and because many of the reforms to our education system are coming from parts of the German model. This is one part of the German model of education that I would like to not have imported to the US.

Related Tags: