Homeschooling Unprotected by ECHR (ECtHR)
On 10 January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights ruled, in the case of Wunderlich v. Germany (App. no.: 18925/15), that the German ban on homeschooling did not breach the right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case was brought by a Christian family who had refused to register their oldest daughter in a school in accordance with German law. As a result, they were fined and prosecuted by the German authorities and the child was temporary taken into care to enforce the school attendance requirement.
The European Court of Human Rights held that the actions of the German state, although interfered with the Article 8(1) rights, were justified for the purposes of protecting the health, rights and freedoms of the children (under Article 8(2)). When considering the case, the Court referred to its previous jurisprudence on the issue of compulsory public education. It recalled that “the State, in introducing such a system, had aimed at ensuring the integration of children into society with a view to avoiding the emergence of parallel societies, considerations that were in line with the Court’s own case-law on the importance of pluralism for democracy and which fell within the Contracting States’ margin of appreciation in setting up and interpreting rules for their education systems...” (para 50).
The Court held further that although the removal of the child from the parent’s care was a very intrusive measure, it was not disproportionate given that it was only temporary and that all other measures (such as fines and regulatory penalties) had already failed to persuade the parents to comply with the school requirement. In considering the question of proportionality, the Court gave “due account to the margin of appreciation to be accorded to the competent national authorities, which had the benefit of direct contact with all of the persons concerned, often at the very stage when care measures are being envisaged or immediately after their implementation...” (para 47).
The case leaves no doubt that homeschooling is not protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. In contrast, the US Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that the US Constitution protects the right to homeschooling. As early as 1925, in the case of Pierce, Governor of Oregon, et al. v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), the Court struck down an Oregon statute requiring all children to attend public school. It was held that children were not ‘the mere creature[s] of the state’ (para 535) and that the responsibility for education belonged to parents so the Court deemed the ability to make educational choices a ‘liberty’ within the meaning of the 14th Amendment (thereby expanding the so called Substantive Due Process doctrine in its jurisprudence). Furthermore, almost 50 years later, in the case of Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), the Court also upheld the right of an Amish family to withdraw their children from public school past 8th grade It was ruled that States could not force families to send their children to attend school where it would infringe their (legitimate) religious beliefs protected under the First Amendment.