NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal appeals court denied asylum Wednesday to a Christian family that fled Germany so they could home-school their children, after ruling that U.S. immigration laws do not grant a safe haven to people everywhere who face restrictions that would be prohibited under the Constitution.
Many American home-school families and evangelical Christians have taken up the cause of Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who faced fines and the threat of losing custody of their children because they refused to comply with Germany's compulsory school attendance law.
In 2008, the Romeikes moved from Bissingen an der Teck in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg to Morristown in eastern Tennessee and applied for asylum. That request was initially granted by an immigration judge in 2010. But the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned that ruling and the Romeikes appealed to the 6th Circuit.
On Tuesday, a three-member panel of U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled from Cincinnati that the Romeikes do not meet the criteria for asylum.
"The question is not whether Germany's policy violates the American Constitution, whether it violates the parameters of an international treaty or whether Germany's law is a good idea. It is whether the Romeikes have established the prerequisites of an asylum claim — a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground," the court wrote. In this case, that protected ground is religious freedom.
But the court found that the German government treats all truants the same, regardless of their reasons for not attending school.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, which represented the Romeikes in court, has made a short video posted to its website that shows the Romeikes' six children studying together at a big table and chasing chickens in the yard.
Next to the video is a link to a White House petition on the Romeike's behalf that has gathered more than 123,000 signatures.
Mike Donnelly, director of international relations for the association, said the Romeikes planned to appeal.
"The court ignored the evidence that Germany targets people for religious or philosophical reasons," Donnelly said, referring to a 2003 German Supreme Court decision that found the compulsory attendance law served a legitimate government interest of counteracting the development of parallel societies.
The 6th Circuit considered this argument but dismissed it, stating, "Any compulsory-attendance law could be said to have this effect."
The U.S. government said in court documents the Romeikes did not belong to any particular Christian denomination and described the parents' objections to the government-approved schools as vague.
For instance, Uwe Romeike claimed a textbook "featured a story suggesting that 'the devil can help you if you ask the devil, but God would not help you,'" the government said. But he could not recall the title of the story or its author.
Romeike also claimed the schools taught witchcraft based on a game played by classmates of his wife when she was in the seventh grade "that involved pushing chairs and glasses around, and dangling a pendulum."