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Germany's Small Freedoms

Writing for German Joys, Ed Philp looks at initiatives against "small freedoms" in Germany, i.e. against the relatively liberal attitudes towards smoking, maximum speed limits on the autobahn, the age of legal beer and wine consumption, and the sale of violent video games.
Ed wonders "how is Germany ever going to convince North American exchange students to spend a year over here without dangling the lure of legal access to liquor in front of them?" Ed appreciates that he can still drink a beer in public and that he could watch some second-rate prime-time nudity on TV, if he wanted to: "Even if these particular aspects don’t interest me, that level of liberalism toward social freedoms does."
According to Ed, "Germany’s small freedoms seem to counterbalance limitations to ‘big’ freedoms, in contrast to the United States, which takes the opposite approach." Unfortunately, he does not elaborate, but in the comments section of German Joys he mentions home schooling as an example of "big freedom."
Dialog International writes that "US Evangelicals Demand German Home Schooling." And even the State Department's report on "Human Rights Practices in Germany" points out:
The legal obligation that children attend a school, confirmed by the Constitutional Court in May and the European Court of Justice in October, and the related bar on home schooling, was a problem for some groups. Generally, state authorities have permitted such groups to establish charter‑type schools.
Two interesting comments at Dialog International: Potsdam Amerikanerin links to a study in International Review of Education, which points out that "Home education is permitted in some form or other in all the European countries studied except Germany." And Little Andy (blog) wonders if the home schooling supporters would continue to criticize Germany, if Muslim fundamentalist parents would make use of a legalization of home schooling.

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2020 on :

I wonder how Mr. Spock would understand Ed's quote: "Germany’s small freedoms seem to counterbalance limitations to ‘big’ freedoms, in contrast to the United States, which takes the opposite approach." What is a counter balance for freedom?!? Of course I know what he tries to explain, but I think he has chosen the wrong words. We should better talk of the authority and responsibility of the citizen, it is here were we need a counter balance. Best example: In the U.S., fire weapons grant maximum authority to the bearer, if misused, he might face a death sentence. By cold logic, a perfect balance - but also evidence of a great lack of civilisation und culture. As a result, representing all levels of crime, the U.S.A. has ten times more people per capita imprisoned than any other nation in the world. With the exception, perhaps, of China and Northkorea - congratulations. So what is the 'big freedom' counter balancing such a society both repressive as trigger happy? Germany's society is far more progressive and higher organized than the American. We simply don't produce crime as much as they do, we don't execute people, instead of fire weapons we have a right of social security and health care. Of course there are man examples of over-regulations in Germany, but I wouldn't bet the U.S.A. has less.

Fuchur on :

"Germany's society is far more progressive and higher organized than the American. " Oh, please. That's just arrogant, pathetic and ridiculous. You cherry-pick the criminal statistic, and from that derive Germany's superiority. In reality, "society" is of course a bit more than just crime! It's easy to come up with lots of statistics where the US beats Germany: income, wealth, innovation, general happiness, ... I won't go on because the whole idea is stupid: just as well you might argue that steak is superior to Wiener Schnitzel. Besides, the recent case where a convicted child molester murdered a little boy is a hint that a bit of "Americanization" of our criminal code might actually be a very good idea...

Zyme on :

Americans simply value personal freedom too high from a European perspective. It is like a primary reflex against an authoritarian approach, which is typical for them. In Europe we have learned to live with mornachies and authoritarian structures. We understand that you need to give away parts of your freedom in case you want to organize things efficiently and intend to reach a higher form of Civilization. I think the american society can be expected to follow this path in the course of the coming centuries, as societies usually break apart without efficient organization.

Don S on :

So kissing the King's arse promotes 'civilisation, Zyme? Can't agree. The best way to deal with elites is this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Revolution

Pat Patterson on :

I think I'll just asssume that the previous two comments are satire. It's rather staggering to be chastised for having too much freedom from a country that actually still has a few senior citizens tottering around with tattoos on their arms. Or an area that just a little over ten years didn't have enough "efficient organization" to prevent the killings in Srebrenica, which last time I checked was still considered part of Europe. To an American the stereotype of Germany and Europe is an area where mass killings are normal but we are hopeful that this latest round a democracy will last. We have confidence that eventually Europeans will lose the ability to kill their fellow citizens and begin to value "big freedoms" as well as the small ones.

Zyme on :

Pat there was no satire at all - I understand your assumptive supposition on the basis of a cultural gap between our continents. And there is little reason to be "staggered" - wake up, we are living in 2007 and not in 1947. We have returned to normality, when will you? @ Don S The French Revolution is the perfect example of what happens when things - out of noble reasons - get out of control. The need for organization arised and this was the result: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Ingres%2C_Napoleon_on_his_Imperial_throne.jpg

Volker on :

What are these "big freedoms", weapons? This is your big freedom? For me it's an idioty not a freedom. Or homeschooling? Every child is entitled to get education in our Country. So the kids have 10 years of mandatory school in their life. But the parents can choose between private schools (protestant and catholic ones included) or public schools. Freedom of choice?! Can we choose our religion? Yes! Can we choose if we want children? Yes! Can we choose which party to elect? Yes! Can we travel abroad? Yes! Can we emigrate if we want? Yes! Do our kids get educated? Yes! Do we live in fear? No! That are the only freedoms that really count.

David on :

I am concerned about home schooling in the US. The examples cited by Potsdam Amerikanerin are the exception. The truth is, tens of thousands of American children are in "Christian" home-schooling programs where they receive little or no science education. Rather, they are taught creationism.

Fuchur on :

That's interesting, because, when I spent a year at an American High School a while ago, I found that lack in "small freedoms" pretty startling: Liquor of course; also, in one town, kids were forbidden to wear certain T-Shirts (apparently there had been some trouble with two rivalling youth gangs). I also was surprised by the drastic school rules (a couple of unexcused - or even excused - absences, and you could be thrown out!). What I found really out of bounds was the idea to stand up and hail some stupid flag every morning... a thing impossible to do for anyone who'd ever heard from Wilhelm Tell ;-). Good thing exchange students were exempt from this duty... I like Ed's idea of differentiating between "big" and "small" freedoms. To me, it has often seemed like a bit of a contradiction that the US on the one hand valor freedom so much, but on the other hand have no problem with restrictions that almost seem medieval to us (smoking, nudity, ...). Ed's terminology is a good way to explain this dichotomy. And the list of examples he gives in a comment further down is indeed convincing. One thing that bothers me, though, is that the definition of "big" and "small" freedom is a bit wanton: E.g., why counts the Anglo-Saxon Ltd. as a "big" thing, while the less restrictive German accounting rules apparently are a "small" thing? Or how about gay marriage - that surely is a big issue, isn't it? Also, I feel that often, what appears to be a big freedom, turns out to be nothing special on closer inspection: Take personal ID and the need to register yourself in Germany. In the US, you don't have to register - but what does this help you in reality? If you want to vote, you'll have to register anyway. And if you want mail, telephone and internet - you'll again have to give away your precious whereabouts... so, you have a pompous big freedom, but no one leading a remotely "normal" life can use it.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"To me, it has often seemed like a bit of a contradiction that the US on the one hand valor freedom so much, but on the other hand have no problem with restrictions that almost seem medieval to us (smoking, nudity, ...). " The influence of the Puritans? I don't quite get it either. I don't understand why Americans under the age of 21 are considered too immature to drink alcohol, but are considered mature enough to join the military and fight in Iraq. The best reason I can come up for this contradiction (my opinon) are again the historical influence of the Puritans. Is that a stupid reason? I like the strict US limits on smoking. I have never understood why Europeans have been pretty concerned about genetically modified food since the very beginning of technological breakthrough, but did not care about (second hand) smoking until recently...

Pat Patterson on :

Joerg-The main difference is that many of these so-called "quality of life" issues get promulgated and passed at the local level, ie. state, county and city. In some cases within a private gated community via its homeowners association(CC&Rs). The smaller the area covered the easier it is to get some personal pet peeve enacted into law because of the lower turnout and the ability of small groups to organize themselves into voting blocs at lightly attended local elections. I can comment on the drinking laws because of the reams of statistical evidence that shows that a huge percentage of fatal accidents in cars involved underage drinking. Therefore since drinking is not an enumerated right in the Constitution then the laws on drinking are determined by the states. This may even sound retrogade but there thousands of municipalities and over a hundred counties in the USA that are dry. There are even guides available on the internet of when, where and what kind of drink you can get when travelling through some of these counties. I do agree that there is a "slight" inconsistency in citizenship and drinking. But I'm perfectly happy to have these kind of issues solved in my city rather than Washington DC.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Are you saying that there are some states, where you can drink below the age of 21??? Regarding accidents due to DUI: It seems kids drink a lot although (or even: because) it is forbidden... So the law might not work very well... How about raising the age for taking driving lessons... Maybe that would work better. I guess it would violate "small freedoms" to raise the age for taking driving lessons...

Pat Patterson on :

There is no federal authority to pass any law banning drinking under the age of 21 in the US. That power, to set age limits and availability of alcohol, hadd been given by the states to the federal government and then repealed during the Depression. attempt. However, those states that want to allow drinking at an earlier age, can do so, but would lose a big chunk of the federal funds set aside for transportation projects in their state. Even then many states have exceptions that allow undeage drinking. Also through the legal doctrine of joint and individual culpability many places that used to sell to minors don't do it as much anymore because of the catastrophic penalties that could be imposed. [url]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_drinking_age[/url] [url[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underage_drinking_America[/url] I'm not even going to try to explain the rationale for the multitude of different state laws about minors acquiring licenses except to say that most teenagers are stunned to discover that getting this permit is not guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. But again an enumerated power that has not been delegated to the federal government.

Pat Patterson on :

Sorry, 2nd link should be; [url]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underage_drinking_America[/url]

Don S on :

"US Evangelicals Demand German Home Schooling." When I first read this headline I thought this was a bit rich - about as rich as demands from Europe that the US suspend the death penalty. In both cases it's really not the business of the parties calling for it. But after exploring the links provided I gather that authorities of the German State have removed a 15 year old girl from her home and threatened to do the same to the other children - because the parents home-schooled the child. Moreover the evangelical group is calling for a boycott on all German products until the girl is restored to her family. Assuming the facts are as presented in these links, I would say that the group is well within it's rights, and not 'demanding German home-schooling'. Rather they are demanding the return of a child to her parents. They are within their rights to start and promote a boycott. I believe the authorities have gone overboard in this case - where is the famoud German tolerance?

Zyme on :

Don S It can be assumed that the authorities have acted on behalf of law here. The Jugendamt is here to secure the welfare of children. When their welfare is threatened, the children are raised by state-run institutions instead. This is a normal procedure and in no way exceptional. I would not be surprised if homeschooling was considered to be a threat to the welfare of children. I remember telling my parents about this american phenomenon some time ago, and to my astonishment, at first they said something like "Why not? It´s up to the parents where their children are educated" - and then we cleared up this misunderstanding: They had thought homeschooling means educating one´s children at home by privately payed teachers :D When they found out that this means children being taught by their PARENTS, they were perfectly shocked.

Don S on :

Some laws are evil, Zyme. An example was the Birmingham bus controversy of 1956 in the US. Rosa Parks and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. were the lawless ones, and Sherriff Bull Connor was upholding the law - vicious dogs and water canon and all. But King and Parks were right and Connor wrong. I think the authorities are wrong to take the child away and threten the family. Period.

Axel on :

Don, naively believing and parroting the propaganda of US religious activists and wingnuts isn't very convincing, especially if one isn't familiar with German law and the concrete case. German women are no pigs and they don't have sex with everyone in public as some Islamic fundamentalists preach every Friday in their mosques, so are present-day German authorities no evil nazis. Just the facts: - The mentioned girl Melissa would have to repeat 7th grade following problems with her performance at school. - As a reaction their parents took her out of the high school and educated her at home. The parents didn't cooperate with school authorities and the Youth Welfare Office which fielded calls from a number of people -- including from Melissa's former school -- saying they were concerned about the girl. - The family court in Erlangen was appealed and the parents didn't cooperate furthermore. The court commissioned a psychiatric report on the teenager to determine the veracity of the concerns. That's a standard procedure in such cases. - The report diagnosed Melissa as suffering from, for instance, "emotional disturbances" and "school phobia" and recommended that she be made a charge of the Youth Welfare Office as her parents were not able to meet her needs. Melissa was removed from her home on Feb. 1, 2007 and placed in a psychiatric clinic for young people in Nuremberg for further testing. Again, that's nothing extraordinary in such a case. I can't translate this in English but the recommendations were "eine "basale Neuorientierung in einer heilpädagogischen Einrichtung/Wohngruppe". Die Schülerin sei in "intensive Förder- und Rehabilitationsmaßnahmen" zu integrieren, damit sie den Schulabschluss nachholen könne." - The family court's decision was upheld in a further court decision on Feb. 16 and again in a decision by a higher appeals court. Needless to say that the whole affair has NOTHING to do with "homeschooling" because Melissa actually isn't "schulpflichtig" anymore and the fact of her "homeschooling" wasn't relevant at all for the Youth Welfare Office's and courts' decisions. And the "allgemeine Schulpflicht" was introduced in parts of Germany like Northern Germany and Prussia during the 18th century.

Don S on :

Axel, It's been my observation that many Germans find it easy to find and condemn injustice 3000 miles over the Atlantic Ocean - but unable to see it closer to home. Could that be happening here? It sounds like the young lady was on her way to the Houptschule (is that the name of the German holding dead-end school)? Perhaps the parents didn't wish to see that happen. Perhaps the girl was afraid of those schools - for good reason or so I hear. So that makes her crazy? Maybe they can trank her up so she won't mind being mistreated?

Fuchur on :

And it's been my observation that many Americans argue that their authorities deserve almost unlimited trust with all sorts of strange things (wiretapping, torture, suspending habeas corpus, kidnapping...) - but cry "NAAAZIS!!!" whenever they perceive that German authorities have a toe out of line. [i]It sounds like the young lady was on her way to the Houptschule [/i] But Alex already pointed it out: [i]Melissa actually isn't "schulpflichtig" anymore[/i]! Maybe you missed it because of the German: The German law requires that that a kid attend school until he/she is 15 (or 16? - that's the time it would take to go through the basic H[b]a[/b]uptschule). Melissa has now reached that age, thus now she's perfectly entitled to drop out of school, and be home-schooled for the rest of her life. So, this is [b]not about home-schooling[/b] - it's about child-"abuse" or -neglection. Naturally I agree with you that this is a very grave matter. The measures taken by the Youth Welfare Office are drastic and absolutely unusual. I'm not aware of any similar cases - I thought this only was possible in cases when the child had turned out a severe criminal. However: Keep in mind that we have little information on the case. I don't consider the website of an organization with a political agenda a trustworthy source (think of Terri Schiavo) - especially when they have already been proven to leave aside important facts (see above). The authorities, on the other hand, claim that their information policy is very restrictive in order to protect the child. And they have a point: It certainly doesn't help if we start a national discussion on how f***ed up the kid really is or isn't. In the end, it somehow comes down to "trust": An independent psychologist (at the least) and two judges have found that the actions taken are justified. I think that I would have decided differently in this case - but I also can understand their decision. In any way, I don't see any sinister conspiracy by evil fascists trying to create a heard of obedient underlings by rooting out all differing thoughts. That's just rubbish. (Btw, I have no problem with home-schooling, and find the German stance here quite stupid. But that's a different story.)

Don S on :

"things (wiretapping, torture, suspending habeas corpus, kidnapping...) - but cry "NAAAZIS!!!" whenever they perceive that German authorities have a toe out of line." Really, Fuchur? When did the US Attorney General compare the German Chancellor to Hitler? I don't recall it at all. Now if you're talking about the German Justice Minister, hmmmm?..... No in modern days whenever someone talks about Nazis it is quite clear whom they mean; members of the US Republican Party. And when they talk about Hitler the comparison is also obvious - it's Bush!

Fuchur on :

[i]No in modern days whenever someone talks about Nazis it is quite clear whom they mean; members of the US Republican Party. [/i] You don't get around very much on the web, do you? ;-) Just check the comments on any website "concerned" with the Melissa case. In fact, I think the author of this American home-schooling association ominously mentioned in his assessment of the situation that the duty to attend school had been instituted by Hitler *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*

Pat Patterson on :

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was in 1956 made famous by Rosa Parks and E.D. Nixon while MLK had just been appointed pastor of his first church, Dexter Avenue. He played only a minor part of the first boycott and had minimal involvement in the nearly year long boycott later that same year. His reputation truly become noteworthy after his house was bombed and he had established the SCLC. Bull Connor was the Public Safety Commissioner of Birmingham and a delegate from Alabama to the Democratic Convention in 1956, 1960 and 1964. His confrontation with MLK, using dogs, water cannons and chewing tobacco, was in 1963.

Zyme on :

The reason is that there is a "Schulpflicht" in Germany, the duty to attend a school as a child. Homeschooling seems to have been allowed up to 1938, and since then is forbidden by law.

David on :

Don't be fooled when American conservatives speak about how they cherish the "big freedoms". When it comes to choosing between freedom and security, the conservatives choose security every time. When the New York Times revealed that President Bush had authorized the warrantless wiretapping of thousands of Americans, the conservatives celebrated this assault on basic constitutional rights. And then they demanded the imprisonment of the Times reporters.

Pat Patterson on :

Firstly the so-called warrantless wiretapping was of foreign calls into the US and the all had to go before the FISA courts to continue to be monitored after 30 days. And that listening was just recently codified by Congress and cleared by the Washington DC Federal Court of Appeals. Fascists to a man. Secondly, could you name one conservative that "celebrated" an assault on any constitutional right? Can you also show me where any conservative, I'll even except a revanchist like Pat Buchanan, demanded the jailing of any reporters?

David on :

Numerous conservatives called for the imprisonment of reporters. Bill Bennett did it on national tv. Read the transcript of Meet the Press [url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13615446/page/7/]here[/url]. I'm happy to list others, but surely you know how to Google. How many conservatives objected when we learned that US was waterboarding detainees - a practice universally considered torture? (Hint: None) How many conservatives yelled and screamed when we learned that the CIA was kidnapping people off the street and flying them to illegal "black sites"? (Yep, NONE) Freedom to an American conservative means: freedom to blindly obey the unitary executive (i.e. Dear Leader).

Pat Patterson on :

And the salient passage was when William Safire said, "...Threaten them with contempt and put them in jail." William Bennett responding by saying that he agreed with that statement. The newsmen had to be charged with contempt in a court proceeding, but to get that far there had to be a criminal investigation, discovery, motions then a court trial and only then if the newspaper reporter refused to reveal his sources could a contempt citation be issued. Which could be appealed to either a state appelate court or a Federal ppeals Court.. Which was what the entire discussion pertained too. Bennett did not call for imprisonment but rather that the reporters, if a subpoena could be issued, be qwuestioned in court. Then if they refused the judge or in some extreme cases the prosecutor could charge them with a crime. Close but no cigar, not only is it neccessary to Google but some basic familiarity with American court proceedings would be awfully helpful as well. Considering the Pres. Clinton signed the order that allowed the CIA to waterboard and also to transship enemy combatants might mean that those evil conservatives where following precedents laid down by a liberal administration. Also William F. Buckley, Ben Stein, David Brooks, Milton Friedman and even one of the arch conservative plutocrats in the US, Henry Regnery etc., all condenmned water boarding. The fact that you only found one example, and a misunderstood and misread example at that, might mean there are none to follow.

David on :

Typical response of the American right: Blame Clinton! By the way, go back to the hearings held by the House Intelligence Committee in May of last year into the New York Times leak and you will see that several Republican members called for the arrest and imprisonment of reporters. As for Bill Bennett on television, I'll let the readers here decide: "MR. BENNETT: We need to get after those people, and one way to get after those people is to talk to the reporters who—with whom they spoke. MR. SAFIRE: Oh, you’re saying “get after them.” That means threatening reporters, and threaten them with contempt and put them in jail. MR. BENNETT: Absolutely, absolutely." Oh,and Pat, it was Dick Cheney who told a radio audience that waterboarding was a "no brainer". For this he was applauded by Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, etc. This is the face of the Republican party. But I suppose it was Clinton's fault!

Pat Patterson on :

Sorry, the last sentence in the first paragraph is not correct. Being held in contempt is not a crime but legal tactic used by a judge and in some jurisdictions by the prosecutor, to keep the proceedings calm and aboveboard. Also a way of coercing testimony in a criminal case from a witness that the court has already ruled does have to testify. Such as when a witness invokes his right to not incriminate himself but the judge rules that in this case that 5th Amendment right doesn't apply.

Pat Patterson on :

Again, you can't get at reporters unless there has been a crime to which that reporter was witness. Here the case was the publishing of secrets which was an indictable felonies and the desire to question the reporters as witnesses to that crime. If you end up with a packet of papers marked Top Secret and then publish them you can expect to be questioned about this crime just as if you got a TV off of a truck and tried to sell it on E-Bay. Many conservatives were upset that the Bush Administration didn't seem to interested in either finding out who leaked. Especially as some reporters did seem to know but wee not questioned. The hyperbole of different commentators and politicians are just that, hyperbole. If you think that Hannity, Limbaugh and Beck are the face of the Republican party then I will claim that Armin Hary and Heidi Krieger are the face of German athletics. Seems fair to me. I didn't blame Clinton but rather pointed out that these acts were already in use, probably a long time before but he did sign the legislation that the present Administration relies on. Now whether the Bush Administration should use them now is a different and legitimate issue. Also I did provide a list of several notable conservatives that objected to rendetion and waterboarding, so now I think its fair to ask for a list of some liberals that objected in the 90's when, tah dah, Clinton used them. I also would like a link to the House Intelligence Committee as there are literally thousands of links in the archives that are not organized by month but by month and date.

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