Christians in an east Tennessee community are vowing to engage in civil disobedience if the Obama administration initiates deportation proceedings against a Southern Baptist family from Germany who sought asylum in the United States so that they could home school their children.
“It may require civil disobedience with this bunch,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who represents the congressional district where the Romeike family lives.
“I am furious about this,” the congressman told me. “You’ve got law-abiding people who did everything right who simply want to home school their kids. We used to be that great shining city on a hill. There’s some rust on that city if we are doing free people this way.”
Roe was among many Tennesseans outraged over the Supreme Court decision not to hear the Romeike’s appeal to stay in the United States. The Christian couple sought asylum in 2008 after they fled Germany so they could home school their children.
The family was initially granted asylum, but the Obama administration objected – claiming that German laws that outlaw homeschooling do not constitute persecution.
“The goal in Germany is for an open, pluralistic society,” The Justice Department wrote in a 2013 legal brief. “Teaching tolerance to children of all backgrounds helps to develop the ability to interact as a fully functioning citizen in Germany.”
Rep. Roe told me the Justice Department needs to “butt out.”
“I don’t know what the Germans are thinking, but we’re not Germany,” he said. “I don’t want to be Germany. I don’t want to be Europe. I want to be America. And right now we’re not acting very much like the America I know with the administration we have.”
Roe called Attorney General Eric Holder “one of the most dangerous people in the country” and called his department’s assault on the Romeike family “appalling and worrisome.”
“I don’t see this as a Democrat or Republican issue,” he said. “It’s an issue of religious freedom. By golly, if we don’t stand for what, what do we stand for?”
Michael Farris, the chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, is representing the family. He said their future in the United States rests with the Obama administration.
“President Obama has the ability to say they can stay,” Farris said. “He can take that pen and piece of paper and make this right today.”
But since that hasn’t happened there are two possible outcomes for the Romeikes and their six children.
Farris said the administration could just ignore the family and let them live in peace. But the government could also file an order of deportation. If that happens, Farris promised a vigorous fight.
“If they come after this family and seek deportation orders, we will be there with our litigation team fighting every step of the way,” he said. “It sounds like their friends and neighbors will be there in a show of solidarity and stand in the gate and prohibit the government from acting.”
And Farris isn’t speaking figuratively. A number of the Romeike’s neighbors in Morristown, Tenn. told me they are prepared to engage in civil disobedience should government agents try to deport the family.
“The Romeikes have become a part of our family,” said Dean Haun, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Morristown, where the family attends. “I don’t think there’s any question that there will be some people who will be willing to stand with them to the very end – even if it means our imprisonment.”
The Southern Baptist pastor said should that day come, he would be counted among the local residents willing to go to jail to save the family from deportation.
“If that’s what it took, yes,” the pastor said. “This is an assault in the face of Christianity in America.”
“This is one of those situations where we are just outraged,” he said. “We are angered.”
He said the Romeikes are beloved in the east Tennessee town – where Uwe is the church pianist as well as an ordained deacon.
“They are not on welfare,” he said. ‘They are not trying to live off our system. They are very productive, godly, Christian people.”
Roger "Sing" Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, told me he was deep distressed by the Obama administration’s actions.
“I’m not sure what’s more chilling – that this administration views their presence in rural east Tennessee as a threat to our nation’s economic and political well being or that this administration lobbied to deport this family to a nation determined to coercively indoctrinate the children in government sanctioned ‘tolerance’ training,” Oldham said.
Oldham said the case is simply perplexing.
“This family is the antithesis of this administration’s political agenda – a heterosexual married Christian couple desiring to teach their biblical values to well-grounded children,” he said. “For whatever reason, our government does not want them in our nation.”
State Rep. Tillman Goins told me the community is “up in arms.”
“Everybody in Morristown knows the Romeike family,” he said. “You have a family who is doing it the legal way, taking every legal step they can to ask to come to this country and to participate as citizens in this country – only to be persecuted by the United States.”
Goins introduced a resolution calling on Tennessee’s congressional delegation to defend the family.
“I don’t know if all religious liberty is under attack in this country,” he said. “It seems like Christian values are under attack more than any other religion.”
Should the day come when the immigration agents show up to take the family away, Goins said he would meet them at the front door.
“Let’s hope that it doesn’t get to that point,” he said. “(But) should it come down to it – absolutely.”
And Morristown Mayor Danny Thomas would be standing alongside the state lawmaker.
“I can tell you this – I would stand with them,” he said. “There has to be a way to work this out before it ever comes to that.”
The mayor said there are no finer folks in his town than the Romeikes.
“They are good citizens without a doubt,” he said. ‘I don’t think you’ll find anyone with a better work ethic – kind, gentle people. I know that he has deep religious beliefs and he wants to stay and so does his family. I would hope our country would be able to accommodate them. They are an asset to our country.”
Farris predicted that if the Romeikes are deported, it would spark a movement among religious liberty supporters.
“If they come for this family, it’s going to ignite a movement that’s going to be the same as when they told courageous Rosa Parks to go to the back of the bus and she wouldn’t go,” Farris said.
“I think we may be approaching a similar moment in our country.”