Most asylum seekers in the US tend to flee wars or dictatorships, but one German family moved to the American South in 2008 because they believed they were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. On Tuesday an immigration judge in Tennessee agreed, and granted them political asylum.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who are evangelical Christians, say they were forced to go the the US because they wanted to educate their five children at home, something that is illegal in Germany.
Judge Lawrence Burman issued the ruling on Tuesday in Memphis, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association, which is representing the Romeikes.
The family left Germany after several run-ins with authorities. The parents had ignored repeated orders to send their children to school. German state constitutions require parents to send their children to public or private schools and they can face fines or even imprisonment if they don't comply.
In October 2006, police came to the Romeike home and took the children to school. In November 2007 Germany's highest appellate court ruled that in severe cases of non-compliance, social services could even remove children from home.
Uwe Romeike told the Associated Press that the 2007 ruling convinced him and his wife that "we had to leave the country." The curriculum in public schools over the past few decades has been "more and more against Christian values," he said.
'The Freedom to Choose'
Lutz Görgens, a German Consul General in Atlanta, Georgia, said in an e-mail statement that German parents had a range of educational options for their children. Mandatory school attendance in Germany ensures a high standard of learning for all children, he said.
"Parents may chose between public, private and religious schools, including those with alternative curricula like Waldorf or Montessori schools," said Görgens.
But Romeike was not comfortable sending his children to public school anymore. He said three eldest children had had problems with violence, bullying and peer pressure. "I think it's important for parents to have the freedom to choose the way their children can be taught," he said.
The couple took the kids out of school in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg in 2006 and were fined around 70,000 ($100,000).
In 2008 Romeike, a music teacher, sold his collection of pianos and rented out his home in the village of Bissingen. The family now live in Morristown, Tennessee, in the so-called Bible Belt. Like many of their neighbors they teach their children at home.
The decision on the family's political asylum could still be overturned if the US government appeals the ruling. But Mike Donnelly, the attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said he hopes Tuesday's ruling will influence public opinion in Germany -- which is part of the reason his group offered to represent the Romeikes, he said.
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