Monday, March 3, 2014

N. Korea, de Blasio, and Homeschool Asylum

Today's a day for playing catch-up.

Three topics about which I've previously written have recently experienced notable developments.  So let's touch base with them and see what's going on. 

North Korea

For example, did you know that the Australian evangelical being detained by the North Korean government was freed today?  John Short is the 75-year-old missionary who was arrested in Pyongyang on February 19 for passing out Bibles in the Communist country.  This evening, however, without advance notice, he arrived in Beijing, China, after the North Koreans released a video purportedly showing him apologizing for "insulting" the Korean people with his proselytization.

Short's release comes despite continued concern for an American businessman currently being held in North Korea, Kenneth Bae, and a Baptist missionary from South Korea who is also being detained.  No new insight on when these two men will be freed was given by the North Koreans.  Of course, we need to remember that detainees from America and South Korea ostensibly hold more political import to their captors than somebody of Australian nationality.  Short's age, too, was mentioned by the North Koreans as a factor in what they described as a humanitarian act on their part.

Bill de Blasio

You might recall an essay I wrote last fall bemoaning the imminent selection by New York's voters of Bill de Blasio as their next mayor.  A lot of people think I'm a liberal, but if you're one of them, you don't know de Blasio.  He's a liberal's liberal; a left winger for whom "right" is a four-letter word.  After two decades of relatively conservative leadership in New York City, in which business interests were perceived by some residents as having a more receptive audience in City Hall than social welfare issues, de Blasio appears eager to roll back the tide of economic advancement that has helped to re-cast the city as a desirable place to live, work, and visit.

Well, none other than the New York Times has started to cautiously voice a note of concern about the type of people with which de Blasio is stocking his new mayoral cabinet.  According to the Times, "the mayor...has built a team filled with former activists - figures more accustomed to picketing administrations or taking potshots from the outside than working from within."

Instead of the professional administrators and business executives from a variety of political philosophies whom Michael Bloomberg, for example, appointed as directors of city departments, the Times almost complains that, "in Bill de Blasio’s City Hall, it seems more and more, there is only a left wing."

Of course, it's still quite early in de Blasio's fledgling administration, and so far, most of the policy squabbles have centered on how well residents believe he's handling the crippling blizzards which have repeatedly slammed the metropolis.  But as spring thaws get closer and closer, it may be that the warm glow of New York's liberals will turn frosty if their new mayor's cabinet is better at criticizing leaders than being in leadership.

Homeschool Asylum

Then there's the case of the German family that was seeking political asylum in the United States because the Germany government won't let them homeschool their children.  With six youngsters to educate, the Romeike family believes that homeschooling is a human right, and that they were eligible to seek refuge in America since the German government does not permit it.  Today, however, by deciding not to hear their appeal, the US Supreme Court effectively ruled that homeschooling is not a human right, and that the Romeikes need to return to Germany.*

It was a six-year battle for the Romeikes and their supporters, all of whom fervently believe that any and all government-supervised education is intrinsically inferior to what and how parents can teach.  Unfortunately for them, however, not one court in the United States has held that view, other than the initial immigration court that originally granted temporary asylum to the family.

Back in 2010, I wrote about this case, and opined that as valuable as homeschooling may be, and regardless of how bad some public schools are, homeschooling is not, in and of itself, a human right.  It may be desirable, convenient, and effective, but it is not essential.  I wouldn't want it to be outlawed, or particularly regulated, but it's not something for which political asylum should be granted.  By extension, it's not something over which we should fight a war, or seek the overthrow of another government, either.  For honest-to-goodness human rights, we've done such things in the past.

One of the reasons homeschooling is not allowed in Germany stems from that country's hideous past with fascism.  Ironically, most homeschoolers in the United States perpetuate the practice of homeschooling out of a fear of big government, but in Germany, the government wants to limit the ability of neo-Nazis to re-establish any semblance of power.  And homeschooling was seen as one of the ways bigotry could be propounded outside of the government's purview.

So, in a way, homeschooling can appeal to both sides of a political spectrum.  Americans may say it's a religious issue, which makes it a civil rights issue in their favor, but in Germany, it's a civil rights issue because it could engender religious persecution.

As these three stories demonstrate, in their own ways, the tension between authority and the individual takes many forms.  And will continue to do so.

*Update:  Today, March 4, just one day after the Supreme Court declined to hear their case, the Department of Homeland Security offered the Romeike family "indefinite deferred status" allowing them to stay in the United States.

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