NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A German couple who fled to Tennessee so they could homeschool their children was granted political asylum Tuesday by a U.S. immigration judge, according to the legal group that represented them.
The decision clears the way for Uwe Romeike (roh-MY-kee), his wife and five children to stay in Morristown, Tenn., where they have been living since 2008. Romeike says his family was persecuted for their evangelical Christian beliefs and for homeschooling their children in Germany, where school attendance is compulsory.
When the Romeikes wouldn't comply with repeated orders to send the children to school, police came to their home one October morning in 2006 and took the children to school. German state constitutions require children to attend public or private schools and parents can face fines or prison time if they don't comply.
In November 2007, Germany's highest appellate court ruled that, in severe cases, social services officials could remove children from their parents.
After that decision, Romeike said, "We knew we had to leave the country."
"During the last 10-20 years the curriculum in public schools has been more and more against Christian values," he said of his decision to teach his children at home.
The U.S. government can appeal the asylum ruling. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment in an e-mail.
The ruling was issued by Immigration Judge Lawrence Burman in Memphis, said Mike Donnelly, an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association. The judge's opinion was not immediately available.
Lutz Gorgens, German consul general for the Southeast U.S., did not directly address the ruling in a statement e-mailed after the ruling Tuesday, but said German parents have a wide range of educational options for their children. Gorgens said the mandatory school attendance policy ensures a high standard of learning for all children.
"Parents may choose between public, private and religious schools, including those with alternative curricula like Waldorf or Montessori schools," said Gorgens, who's based in Atlanta.
Donnelly said he hopes the ruling will influence public opinion in Germany, and that is part of the reason his group offered to represent the Romeikes.
Romeike said in an interview that when his oldest children were in public schools they had problems with violence, bullying and peer pressure.
"I think it's important for parents to have the freedom to chose the way their children can be taught," Romeike said.
The Romeikes took their three oldest children out of school in Bietigheim-Bissingen in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in 2006. Romeike said the couple was fined the equivalent of about $10,000 over a two-year period.
"We didn't pay it all because we couldn't," he said. "We went to court and tried to fight against it -- without success."