Catholic Parents and the “Primordial and Inalienable” Right and Duty

“The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 2221).

The Catholic Church on the Role of Parents and the Community in Education

Governments and political communities have a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially the freedom to establish a family, have children, and bring them up in keeping with the family’s own moral and religious convictions. (CCC 2211). Following the principle of subsidiarity, larger communities should take care not to usurp the family’s prerogatives or interfere in its life. (CCC 2209). Moreover, the Church teaches that the home – not school – is the natural environment for initiating a human being into solidarity and communal responsibilities.

The Church also states that parents should teach children to avoid the compromising and degrading influences which threaten human societies. (CCC 2224). When parents determine that it is the schools themselves which compromise or degrade society, the Church’s position is clear: parents have the first, “primordial” and “inalienable” right to educate their children. The home is the natural environment for integrating with society, not the school. And larger communities (i.e., governments) may not usurp the family’s prerogatives or interfere in its life. The proper role of larger communities is to support parents in carrying out their primary function, not to supersede or usurp parental rights in directing education.

The Case of Germany and the Romeike Family

Some may be familiar with the story of the Romeike family, an evangelical Christian family from Germany, who in 2010 sought asylum in the United States after being subjected to criminal prosecution for homeschooling their five children in Germany.

The Romeikes objected to their children attending public schools in Germany, because they believed that their children would be exposed to things that conflicted with their deeply held religious convictions, and they asserted their right to direct the education of their own children. Remaining in Germany would have exposed the Romeikes to fines or other criminal penalties, potentially including the loss of custody of their children.

Initially, the federal immigration judge who heard their case granted the family political asylum in February 2011. However, the U.S. Government appealed the decision to the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, which overturned the grant of asylum in 2012. The Romeikes appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a unanimous decision against asylum on April 23 of this year. The Romeike family now faces deportation from the United States back to Germany.

What will Happen if the Romeikes are Returned to Germany?

If the Romeikes persist in refusing to permit their children to attend school in Germany, their children could be forcibly taken from them by the German government, like the Wunderlich family who, on August 29, 2013, experienced a raid of their home near Darmstadt, Germany, when “a team of 20 police officers, social workers, and special agents forcibly removed all four of the children… because the Wunderlichs continued to defy the German ban on homeschooling.”

The U.S. Government and the “Threat” to Homeschooling

In taking its position, the Justice Department in the Romeike Case argued a legal question that is only peripherally concerned with homeschooling itself. The issues presented did not seek to determine whether the German homeschooling laws are “just”, but whether the Romeikes qualify for asylum according to legally defined criteria – that is, whether “…Germany selectively enforces its compulsory school attendance law, or disproportionately punishes those who violate it, such that the law is a mere pretext for persecution on account of a protected ground.”

In other words, the Justice Department argued that since parents in Germany who permit their children to be truant from school are treated the same as parents who homeschool, the law is not politically motivated against homeschooling, and thus parents who emigrate and seek asylum here in the United States on that basis are not eligible for political asylum.

However, it is puzzling that in making its argument concerning equal application of the German compulsory school law, the Justice Department filed a brief in the Romeike case on June 26 which quoted the ruling of the German court in connection with the Wunderlichs’ case, stating:

“The general public has a justified interest in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated parallel societies and in integrating minorities in this area. Integration does not only require that the majority of the population does not exclude religious or ideological minorities, but, in fact, that these minorities do not segregate themselves and that they do not close themselves off to a dialogue with dissenters and people of other beliefs. Dialogue with such minorities is an enrichment for an open pluralistic society. The learning and practicing of this in the sense of experienced tolerance is an important lesson right from the elementary school stage. The presence of a broad spectrum of convictions in a classroom can sustainably develop the ability of all pupils in being tolerant and exercising the dialogue that is a basic requirement of democratic decision-making process.”

The Justice Department characterized the German ruling as having “…sought to ensure that the contributions of religious minority groups are made part of the public sphere, so that all students benefit from robust discussion of different beliefs… Here, where the record contains numerous pieces of documentary evidence indicating that the German government seeks to include minority voices, the Board was not free to simply ignore the evidence and conclude that the German government was merely trying to appear tolerant, nor does the record compel this conclusion.”

Legal analysis: the sum and substance of the Justice Department’s argument is that since the law is equally (and “equality” is the new measure of “justice” today) applied (never mind the practical effect of the law that homeschoolers are treated the same as truants without any qualitative distinction between the two), political asylum is unavailable to the Romeikes.

But the Justice Department is also sending a preliminary message that the interests “in counteracting the development of religiously or philosophically motivated parallel societies and in integrating minorities in this area” are legitimate concerns of the Government, and that those interests can and eventually may be cited as the basis for requiring that parents comply with government-mandated educational goals, up to and including compulsory attendance at school.

How Does this Square with the Church’s Teaching?

Any goals stated for the purpose of “integrating minorities”, “fostering tolerance”, “building pluralistic communities” or furthering the “democratic decision-making process” are not suitable bases for limiting the “primordial and inalienable” right of parents to educate their children. Rather, the German compulsory school attendance law, and the Justice Department’s support of returning the Romeike’s back to Germany so that they can face prosecution, is a gross violation of their fundamental human rights.

In the “Declaration on Christian Education” Gravissimum Educationis 
(1965), the Church sets forth the following concepts:

First, Parents “must be recognized as the primary and principal educators” of their children. Their rights include: the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children and true liberty in their choice of schools.

Second, the family is the first school of the social virtues that every society needs.

Third, since the family often needs help to carry out their primary duty, certain rights and duties belong to civil society, whose role is to direct what is required for the common temporal good, and functions:

a. to protect the duties and rights of parents and others who share in education and to give them aid;

b. according to the principle of subsidiarity, when the endeavors of parents and other societies are lacking, to carry out the work of education in accordance with the wishes of the parents; and, moreover, as the common good demands, to build schools and institutions. (See also, CCC 2229).

c. to carry out the obligation that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.

d. to see to it that all citizens are able to come to a suitable share in culture and are properly prepared to exercise their civic duties and rights.

e. to protect the right of children to an adequate school education, check on the ability of teachers and the excellence of their training, look after the health of the pupils and in general, promote the whole school project. But it must always keep in mind the principle of subsidiarity so that there is no kind of school monopoly, for this is opposed to the native rights of the human person, to the development and spread of culture, to the peaceful association of citizens and to the pluralism that exists today in ever so many societies.

The Church clearly teaches that while the state has a legitimate interest in promoting the common temporal good, there is no kind of school monopoly, for this is opposed to the native rights of the human person


Homeschooling families (and anyone who cares about defending the dignity of persons and fundamental human rights) should not ignore this developing issue. The right of parents to direct their children’s education must be defended.

A compulsory public school law is not likely anytime soon here in the United States, but an incrementalism toward increased government control is on the horizon, with things such as the Common Core standard and various forms of “required” curriculum or standardized test preparation.

As American public schools stagnate and become more afflicted with the problems contaminating all of society, the number of parents who choose homeschooling continues to increase, which effects the withdrawal of more of the children likely to make positive impacts in public school culture (and thus indirectly exacerbating the fundamental problems of public schooling). While this is is an unintended consequence for the vast majority of all homeschooling families, it also increases the bloc of individuals who value the right to homeschool, making any efforts by the Government and its allies to oppose or curtail parents’ educational rights much more difficult.

Safety in numbers, as they say. The Germans have only 500 homeschooling families, while there are 2 million in the United States.

[NOTE: Soon I won’t be bothering you about voting for me for Beer Camp. Until then, please vote!]


2 thoughts on “Catholic Parents and the “Primordial and Inalienable” Right and Duty

  1. Pingback: 10 Reasons to Have Kids Early in Your Marriage -

  2. Pingback: Pray for the Protection of the Rights of a Family Persecuted Under a Nazi Law | Quartermaster of the Barque

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