There’s an old joke about how Australia got all of England’s criminals and America got all of England’s religious fanatics and between the two countries we got the worse of it. I was thinking about that while reading last week’s issue of The Local’s weekly round-up when it appeared in my mailbox. The Local is an English language German news site, and the writer of the weekly highlights had this to say about the German family who last week got asylum here in the United States, because Germany wouldn’t let them home school their kids…

Making a mockery out of US asylum policy, a judge in the state of Tennessee ruled the devout evangelical Christians faced persecution in Germany because they disagreed with the country’s compulsory school attendance.

Now even if you’re a big advocate for homeschooling, it’s downright silly to claim this family was somehow oppressed because none of Germany’s public, private and religious schools fit their narrow world view.

But the judge bought their argument formal education in “godless” Germany was somehow against Christian values. I guess somebody had better tell that to the headmasters of Germany’s countless Catholic and Protestant schools.

Or perhaps this particularly provincial judge needs to be told that there’s little in the way of America’s admirable separation of church and state in Germany.

Not only is there compulsory tithing if you’re a member of a Christian church here, but there is also a constitutional right to faith-specific religion classes in German public schools. It’s a situation evangelicals in America could only dream of!

[Emphasis mine] And yet, this family sought asylum here in the U.S. Something that Americans don’t seem to really grok about Europe is that separation of church and state is a uniquely American thing. Even in civilized, industrial Europe, the concept is strange. But it’s possible to make a closer relationship between church and state work over there, I am convinced, because Europe doesn’t have the nutty Darbyist pre-millennial dispensation form of Christianity that’s taken hold in much of the United States. England has its own official state church, yet the image of Charles Darwin graces the ten pound note. Try to imagine Darwin’s face gracing any form of U.S. currency, I dare you.

And that was what crossed my mind when I first read this story about that German family. It wasn’t the promise of religious freedom that brought them to America. They had to leave their homeland, and their kids had to loose their nation, their culture, their birthright, not because Germany was intolerant of Christianity, but because their parents wanted to lock their growing minds into a fundamentalist padded cell and that was the only way. If the German government is guilty of anything it’s knowing full well how vital it is that the young are given a decent education. But that would have meant teaching this family’s kids a few facts they’d rather their little snowflakes weren’t ever bothered with. It wasn’t Germany that was persecuting them, it was reality.

Yes, actually, the universe is more then six-thousand years old. Yes, actually, the earth isn’t at the center of the universe. Yes, actually, we humans evolved from simpler life forms, over hundreds of millions of years. Yes, actually, giving a decent education to our young isn’t just a good thing, it’s vital to our national security. Yes, yes…freedom of religion is a democratic touchstone, a litmus test for the vitality of a nation. But it’s one thing for the United States to be a sanctuary for religious freedom…and I pray it always remains so despite the best efforts of our religious right to turn it into a fundamentalist theocracy…and another for it to become a refuge from reality.