German authorities breach family’s right to homeschool by forcibly removing children from their home
What’s at Stake:
- The right of parents to freely educate their children at home
- The right to live out one’s faith in all aspects of life
Early on the morning of 29 August 2013 a group of 33 police officers and 7 youth welfare officers stormed the home of the Wunderlich family near Darmstadt, Germany. The police squad threatened to use a battering ram to open the door and shoved the father, Dirk, into a chair as they dragged away his four children, aged seven to 14. A policeman pushed aside Petra, Dirk’s wife, as she tried to kiss one of her daughters goodbye, telling her: ‘Too late now!’ The couple were powerless as they watched their children being taken away.
So what was it that led to these terrifying events? The family had just sat down to begin its first homeschool lesson of the year—in Germany, homeschooling is forbidden. Germany’s ban on homeschooling dates back to 1918. But since then, the nation has signed up to a number of international human rights agreements that explicitly protect the right of parents to choose the manner of education for their children. Germany has failed to honour these agreements on several occasions, pursuing families—such as the Wunderlichs—who have chosen to educate their children at home.
Dirk and Petra Wunderlich wanted the best for their children and felt that their home environment was the best choice. This also allowed them to teach on the basis of their Christian faith. The family had moved around Europe several times in order to find a place where they could pursue their wish to homeschool. Finally, when they settled back in Germany, authorities illegally took their passports in an attempt to keep them from moving again. It was just as they were about to start homeschooling in August 2012 that the police officers and social workers forcibly entered their home and took away their children. Although Dirk and Petra have now been reunited with their children, they have only been given partial custody and must send their children to a government-approved education program.
ADF International and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) supported the Wunderlich family before the courts in Germany and are now before the European Court of Human Rights. ADF International allies Ordo Iuris and the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) have also submitted interventions to the court. On 31 January 2017 the German Government replied with their initial observations, ironically claiming that the seizure of the Wunderlich children was justified to force them to attend the local school so the children would ‘learn to deal with those who think differently’.
ADF International continues to defend the right to homeschool and as well as defending the family before the European Court of Human Rights. Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy, commented: ‘The right of parents to homeschool should be respected and ADF is committed to working along with HSLDA and others to protect this important freedom from being marginalized. The acts of the German authorities seizing the Wunderlich children is unconscionable and those responsible must be held to account before the European Court of Human Rights.’
Our Role in the Case
ADF International is working together with HSLDA to vindicate the fundamental rights of Dirk, Petra and the Wunderlich children. On 10 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the German family, disregarding their parental rights and right to family life. They brought the case to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and on 5 July 2019, the Chamber declined to hear the referral in Wunderlich v. Germany. There is no further appeal from this decision.