In a political asylum case involving a German family that fled to the United States to be able to homeschool their children, the U.S. Justice Department is arguing that the freedom to choose to educate one’s own children is not a fundamental right, reports The Christian Post. If the Romeike family, who are evangelical Christians, lose their case and are deported back to Germany, they could face fines and jail time, and their children could even be taken away from them. Homeschooling is illegal in Germany. The Romeikes did not agree with some of what was taught to their children in the public schools, so they began homeschooling in violation of the law. After paying about $10,000 in fines and watching the police apprehend their children and take them to the public school, they sought political asylum in the United States and immigrated to Tennessee. The Home School Legal Defense Association helped them with the move and now represents them in court. The Romeikes were granted political asylum by a federal district court judge in Tennessee. Political asylum is granted to refugees who can demonstrate that they are being persecuted for religious reason or because they belong to a “particular social group.” The U.S. government protested the judge’s decision and appealed to an immigration appeals court, which ruled against the Romeikes. The case, Romeike v. Holder, is now in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a blog post for the Home School Legal Defense Association, Michael Farris, founder and chairman of the organization, takes exception to this line of legal reasoning, arguing that it ignores individual liberties. The Justice Department is essentially saying that Germany has violated no one’s rights because it banned homeschooling for all, Farris wrote, which means the Justice Department believes there is no fundamental right to homeschool: “There are two major portions of constitutional rights of citizens—fundamental liberties and equal protection. The U.S. Attorney General has said this about homeschooling. There is no fundamental liberty to homeschool. So long as a government bans homeschooling broadly and equally, there is no violation of your rights. This is a view which gives some acknowledgement to the principle of equal protection but which entirely jettisons the concept of fundamental liberties.” The Justice Dept. is also taking the position that the Romeikes do not meet the definition of a “particular social group” because their faith does not require them to homeschool. The problem with this argument, Farris believes, is that it does not recognize religious liberty as an individual right. The Romeikes believe they are doing what is best for their children, based upon the teachings of their faith, by providing their children’s education themselves and by preventing their children from being exposed to the public school system. For Farris, the freedom to homeschool is essential to freedom of thought—the right to believe what one wants to believe. Most would find a problem, Farris points out, with forcing Jews to feed their children pork. He equates forcing students to take a particular course of education to force feeding the mind, rather than the body, on a religiously objectionable diet. “Freedom for the mind and spirit is as important as freedom for the body and spirit,” Farris wrote. German homeschoolers are a persecuted social group in Germany, Farris contends, and in a free nation there should be a fundamental right to homeschool. The Justice Department argues that governments may legitimately use its authority to force parents to send their kids to government sanctioned schools. Since it takes the position that Germany may do that, it follows that the administration believes it has the right to do that in the United States as well. “It is important that Americans stand up for the rights of German homeschooling families,” Farris concludes. “In so doing, we stand up for our own.”
- The Pentagon announced Monday that it would extend additional benefits to same-sex military couples, including access to base facilities and groups as well as joint assignments, the latest move by the Obama administration to heed calls from gays and lesbians pressing for change, reports washingtonpost.com. Activists hailed the move as a meaningful step toward full equality, which they say will remain elusive unless a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a heterosexual union is repealed. The additional 20 benefits do not include health-care coverage for same-sex spouses or on-base housing privileges. Defense officials said they are studying whether they may be able to extend certain housing benefits without violating the Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts the Pentagon from extending more than 100 benefits to same-sex couples. “It is a matter of fundamental equality that we provide similar benefits to all those men and women in uniform who serve their country,” outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement. The Pentagon estimates that about 5,600 active-duty and roughly 3,400 National Guard servicemembers have same-sex spouses. During a briefing on the additional benefits, a defense official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity said the cost of extending benefits access would be “negligible.” The Pentagon said it hopes to offer the additional benefits by Aug. 31. The biggest lingering question is whether the department might be able to offer on-base housing to same-sex couples. The Pentagon decided not to do so for the time being because on-base housing is scarce and because legal experts worried that doing so could have contravened the “spirit” of the federal marriage law, a defense official told reporters. The issue would be moot if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA this summer. Advocates of gay troops hailed the Pentagon move, saying it was evidence that President Obama was making good on his promise to push for greater equality under the law for gays and lesbians. The ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee accused the president of “pushing his liberal social agenda through the Department of Defense.” “We are on a slippery slope here,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). “Why would the DOD extend benefits to same-sex partners and then deny cohabitation heterosexual couples the same benefits?”
- The minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, which has been giving funding to an evangelical organization that describes homosexuality as a “perversion” and a “sin,” said Sunday no further payments will be made until officials review the organization, reports CBC News. “I have asked officials to review this organization before further payments are made,” tweeted Julian Fantino, international cooperation minister. The group was receiving funding from the government of Canada for its work in Uganda, where gays and lesbians face severe threats. The federal government has denounced virulent homophobia in that East African country, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has condemned plans for an anti-gay bill that could potentially include the death penalty for homosexuals. Nevertheless, the federal government has been providing $544,813 in funding for Crossroads Christian Communications—an Ontario-based evangelical group that produces television programming—to help dig wells, build latrines, and promote hygiene awareness in Uganda through 2014. The organization’s website carried a list of “sexual sins” deemed to be “perversion”: “Turning from the true and/or proper purpose of sexual intercourse; misusing or abusing it, such as in pedophilia, homosexuality and lesbianism, sadism, masochism, transvestism, and bestiality.”
- The Southern Baptist Convention’s first African-American president, Fred Luter, is encouraging ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans, to look to international missions, reports Baptist Press. Of IMB’s 4,900 missionaries, 27 are African American, 79 are Hispanic, and 317 are Asian. For African Americans, that’s one-half of 1 percent of the total IMB missionary count, explains Keith Jefferson, IMB’s African American church missional strategist. When compared to as estimated 1 million African Americans included in the SBC’s 16 million members, “that’s a disproportionately low number of African Americans serving overseas,” he said.
- President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday night called for new government spending on infrastructure, clean energy, and education. While pluralities of voters believe those proposals would help the economy, most think spending cuts would help the economy more. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 55 percent of likely U.S. voters think cutting government spending would do more to help the economy than increasing government spending on infrastructure, clean energy, and education projects. In his first Newsmax TV interview since leaving Congress to lead the Heritage Foundation, former Sen. Jim DeMint said that Americans are smart enough to know that President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech was nothing more “than a wish list that we can’t afford and that the president can’t get done.” Heritage Foundation executives say they are most troubled at how Obama has subverted the U.S. Constitution with his steady use of executive orders. “The president’s clearly challenging constitutional boundaries—and he’s doing it to rile the Republicans up and to get them going after him,” DeMint says. “But it’s a tough thing, and we need to do it through the courts. It’s worrisome that he believes so much in central power and executive power. That’s not what makes America great. We’re a bottom-up nation, with millions of people making their own decisions about what they want to do and what they value.” Congressman Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the Chief Deputy Whip in the GOP controlled House of Representatives, told Newsmax that any budget proposal that comes from the Senate and includes new tax hikes is “dead on arrival.” During an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, the Illinois Republican called the newly announced plan by Senate Democrats aimed at preventing automatic spending cuts set to take effect in March “ridiculous.”
- Children at a Massachusetts elementary school have been banned from bringing Valentine’s Day candy or cards. Parents of students at Salemwood Elementary School in Malden, Mass., received a letter informing them of the policy that impacts not only Valentine’s Day but all holidays. “We have many different nationalities, cultures and languages spoken,” Principal Carol Keenan told Fox News. “Because of that we don’t honor specific holidays.” Keenan said she did not want some students feeling left out. Parents and local residents said they are furious at the decision. “How does celebrating a holiday in the USA interfere with cultural and language equality?” wondered one. Jean Balliro, now retired, said she taught second grade at the school. She fondly recalled Valentine’s Day events. “They were so cute exchanging and reading the cards,” she said. “I am so glad I am retired. I don’t think I could stand all the bans in the schools today.” Another noted, “It’s disgusting that all this political correctness is basically not allowing children to be children. What a shame.”
- Republican senators are blocking a vote on former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) this week unless he provides additional financial information, setting up what Democrats say is the first-ever filibuster of a Defense secretary nominee, reports thehill.com. Hagel is seen as being weak on Israel and other issues.
- The United States has pledged to accelerate delivery of 20 F-16 multi-role fighters to Egypt in 2013, reports worthynews.com. Officials said Egypt would receive all of the F-16 Block 52 aircraft this year. They said the arrival of the four aircraft marked the first delivery of the F-16s in 2013 as part of cooperation between Egypt and the United States. Despite anti-government protests in Egypt, the United States is sending 20 F-16 fighter jets to the Cairo government as part of a $1.3 billion foreign aid package. “The U.S. delivery of four aircraft is part of a group of 20 F-16s that will arrive in Egypt over the course of the year,” the U.S. embassy said. On Feb. 3, Egypt and the United States held a joint ceremony to mark the arrival of the four F-16s. So far, Washington has delivered 224 F-16 aircraft to the Egyptian Air Force. “Our 34-year security partnership is based upon shared interests and mutual respect,” U.S. ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson said. “The United States has long recognized Egypt as an indispensable partner.” The F-16 delivery came after the Senate voted down an amendment to stop the F-16s and M1A1 main battle tanks to Egypt. The 79-19 vote ended an attempt by Sen. Rand Paul to stop the latest arms sales amid nationwide unrest against the Islamist regime of President Mohammed Morsi. “The F-16s are part of the $1.3 billion in the Foreign Military Financing program from the U.S. in annual military and security assistance to improve Egypt’s defensive capabilities and support Egypt’s contributions to regional security that counter terrorist threats,” the U.S. embassy said. The administration of President Barack Obama acknowledged that the F-16 delivery was taking place amid rising unrest in Egypt. On Feb. 5, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged his Egyptian counterpart, Abdul Fatah Sisi, not to use the U.S.-financed Egyptian military against protesters.
- Christians in Kenya were mourning the death of two Somali pastors who were reportedly murdered by suspected Islamic militants. Abdi Weli and another unidentified Christian were shot dead in a main market of the eastern city Garissa Feb. 7, local Christians and rights activists told Worthy News. Both were active pastors among Somali immigrants in Kenya, explained International Christian Concern, an advocacy group with close ties to the local Christian community. Weli, who became a Christian in 1990, was ordained as a pastor in 2004, Christians said. Local Christians blamed fighters of the militant Shabab group, who openly opposes Christianity. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Worthy News also reports that a key human rights official warned Feb. 12 that corruption within the police and government of India’s eastern state of Orissa has contributed to renewed violence against Christians in which at least five people were killed, while several “innocent” believers remain jailed.