Schmidt’s “have their day in court”

Today began sunny and bright in Nördlingen, Germany.  This town is part of Germany’s Romantic Road and has the history to bear it up.  I would like to say it was by careful planning on my part, but it was only the providence of God that our hotel was literally thirty feet from the entrance to the court, the Amsgericht, where the Schmidt family was this day fighting for the right to keep custody of their youngest son, Aaron.

Aaron is fourteen and has two more years left of high school.  He is a normal well rounded young man who speaks English well, but seldom does because he is shy around the Americans.  He plays on a local football club and is quick to smile.  I was with Aaron right before the hearing.  He was calm and seemed convinced that everything would be fine.

I had asked permission to attend the court hearing as an interested person and a friend of the family.  The judge was happy to have me in the courtroom as long as I did not broadcast her name on the Internet.  The Jugendamt, however, was a different matter.  Gabriele Eckermann represented the parents in the hearing.  Johannes Hildebrandt represented the interests of Aaron.

The Jugendamt asked if I was associated with home schooling.  When Gabriele answered honestly that I was—I was one of the attorneys who filed the notorious Konrad case at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France back in 2003—the Jugendamt protested my being allowed in the courtroom for the hearing and so I was banned from enjoying the proceedings.  Had I been allowed in the courtroom my lack of working German would have kept me from enjoying the proceedings, so it was a trade off.

The first thing the judge did was asked to meet privately with Aaron and his attorney.  In itself this is a big victory.  In one case it took hours of arguments from the lawyers to have the attorney be permitted to be with the child.

After examining Aaron for herself the judge continued the hearing.  The Jugendamt asked to have Aaron psychologically tested, they naturally assume that there is something wrong with him because he is home schooled.  Johannes objected to the test stating that there was no evidence that there was anything wrong with Aaron and the court agreed.

The judge’s final decision today was that the local school should give Aaron a test to see if he is academically okay.  Pending the results of that test all the attorneys agree that the court will leave custody with the parents—instead of transferring custody to the State!

This is a big partial victory.  This is not the first time it has happened, but it is rare, that the court has not ruled that home schooling is against the law and therefore nothing further needed to be done other than putting the child in school.

This is one of the first times that a German court has intimated that they would not stop the home schooling as long as the child was being educated properly.

This is a huge victory in the making.  If we can get this court to continue and more courts to agree that home schooling is not, in itself, harmful, then we can begin to make a dent in the legal system that is currently punishing parents for exercising their legal right to control the education of their children.

After the hearing we went to a nearby restaurant to have tea and discuss the decision.  Gabriele and I had a discussion about the controls the State is trying to put on children in Germany and America.  There is no doubt that one of the goals of Germany, and the new American approach to government, is to control the thinking of the children in a way that is more aligned with the State rather than with the individual families.

That is why this fight is so important.

For His Kingdom,



6 Responses to “Schmidt’s “have their day in court””

  1. 1 Aimee Stowe 24 September 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Congrats, Joel, question–what legal authority and also what theory leads the gov’t to assume that home schooling is neglectful, abusive, or otherwise so deprives Aaron that he should be removed from his parents? I’m having trouble thinking of the psychology/sociology behind the disapproval of home schooling.

    • 2 joelthornton 27 September 2009 at 1:07 pm

      Amiee, first thank you for reading. Second, I have asked experts this very question, there are a couple of answers. The Germans do not want strong individual families that are not radically committed to the State. This is particularly a European approach to life, and Germans even more so. Home school, and even Christian families, are committed first to the family and then to the State. The additional prpoblem is that the Youth Welfare Office is out of control. No one can get them to back off and they are looking to crush home schooling because they do not believe in the value of home school, in spite of hte international data that is available. the Youth Welfare Office believes that home schooling is child neglect by definition because they do not believe in the socialization that goes on in the home as compared with state socialization. The courts have stated that they fear the development of parrallel socieities through home schooling, meaning only that they do not want strong Christian families as this is a post-Christian Europe–eactly where America is headed.

      • 3 Aimee Stowe 28 September 2009 at 7:59 pm

        Thanks for bringing this to light. In the study of human/civil rights, European law if often held up as the ideal. What a shock to find out that the development of individual/family/religious rights is stunted. I actually feel a little ignorant not having known this!

      • 4 joelthornton 28 September 2009 at 10:44 pm

        Glad to help, what you are probably thinking about is in other areas. Europe is very much held up as the ideal by the American left in such areas as same-sex marriage and death penalty and gun control, etc. That is where you probably have seen the studies that lead you to the conclusions you have. No harm, no foul.

  2. 5 Rina Groeneveld 29 September 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Hi Joel,
    I am so glad to hear that a family court judge had enough sense not to swallow the JA’s **** without consulting the evidence. I hope it works out for the Schmidt family. I have seen so many lovely home educating families in Germany tormented by the Jugendamt. We were just visited here in Ireland by a family who had to flee Germany after they were threatened with removal of their children.

    To many Germans, the worst possible thing that could happen to a child is that the child is “indoctrinated” by his or her parents into their way of thinking, especially if the parents are religious. They believe that it is preferable for all children to be forced into state schools, the earlier and longer the better, in order to prevent even one child being subject to what they perceive as a form of abuse. Bullying, peer pressure leading to early sexualisation and drug experimentation are all necessary evils, or even desirable compared to this dreadful fate that might befall children if they are homeschooled by their parents. Then, of course, we have the very high probability that parents who aren’t interested in their children’s education will just keep them at home to use them as free labour, or marry their daughters off at the age of 14 to some cousin in their home country (I hope my tongue-in-cheek tone is clear). When you tell these people that home education is allowed in all Germany’s neighbouring countries and the rest of Europe, and these countries haven’t fallen into a state of total anarchy as a result, they just ignore you (or, I hope that they don’t respond because they don’t have an answer for that one).

    Sorry about this long rant, but I find this attitude hard to understand myself, even though I lived in Germany for a total of nearly 9 years. There are obviously a myriad of cultural reasons for such attitudes, especially when one considers that in Anglo-Saxon countries it is accepted by all except those on the very left of the political spectrum that children are not the property of the state and that schools are delegated by parents to educate their children and not the other way round.

    Regards, Rina

    • 6 joelthornton 30 September 2009 at 3:04 pm

      Rina, Thanks for your thoughtful comments and shring your personal experience. I too am baffled by the German approach. keep reading, Joel

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