Just a few years after "state-napping" a homeschooled seven-year-old boy from his parents after boarding an international flight to emigrate to India – and keeping them from seeing him for three years – Swedish officials are at it again. This time they are pursuing their agenda through Sweden's Supreme Court, as they continue to violate the human rights of a Swedish-American couple by denying their application to homeschool their elementary-age daughter.
Representing homeschooling parents Ellinor and Daniel Petersen, the Home School Legal Defense Association is appealing to the Swedish Supreme Court the family's right – protected by both Swedish and international human rights laws – to decide what form of education best meets the needs of their children. According to the Petersens, Swedish officials – by prohibiting the Petersens from educating their children at home under their own value and belief systems – aren't abiding by those laws.
Since Swedish education law was revised in 2010 to only allow homeschooling under "extraordinary circumstances," Swedish authorities have consistently denied any parents approval for homeschool programs. Conveniently for the state, legislators have not indicated exactly what circumstances must be present in order for officials to grant parents and guardians permission to teach their children from home.
The current education law was enforced a year after the aforementioned "state-napping" incident that saw Dominic Johansson stripped from his family as they were about to depart to live in his mother's homeland in India. During the three years that Swedish authorities kept Dominic away from his parents under state custody, permanent guardianship of the boy – just seven years old when abducted from his parents – was transferred to the state. HSLDA, along with a Swedish human rights attorney and Alliance Defending Freedom, is representing the Johanssons in their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
But a few years ago in 2012, things started looking up for homeschoolers in Sweden, when an orthodox Jewish family seeking to homeschool their children won an appeals court decision. This victory was short-lived, however, as the Swedish Supreme Court overturned the Namdar family's favorable ruling just weeks afterwards in an appeal. (See related story)
"The Namdar family requested permission to homeschool, saying that their religious faith provided the 'extraordinary circumstances' required by Swedish school law," HSLDA reported. "The high court said that although the Namdar family had demonstrated that their plan met the first two requirements of the school law, their religious faith could not provide 'extraordinary circumstances' because Swedish law requires all schools to make it possible for children of all faiths to participate."
Lawless new law?
Problems in the new law are readily pointed out by critics who contend that it violates rights by forcing students to accept the teaching in both the public education system and the private education system – which is also strictly regulated by the government. When critiquing the new law, opponents frequently refer to an anti-homeschooling commentary found within the new law:
"For the current school regulations it is set forth clearly that the teaching in school shall be comprehensive and objective and thereby designed so that all students can participate, regardless of the religious or philosophical convictions of the student and the student's guardians. Against this background, it is the Government's view that today there is no need for a decision in the Education Act that allows for homeschooling on account of the religious or philosophical convictions of the family."
According to the Petersens, this law's reasoning just doesn't fly by Sweden's legal system – or most nations' throughout the world, for that matter.
"In their pro se appeal, the Petersens argue that the court's application of this narrow portion of legislative history conflicts with the larger intent and purpose of Swedish school law, as well as Sweden's international human rights obligations," HSLDA reported.
Facing stiff opposition from the state, the Petersens argued that Swedish officials need to show a better understanding of the laws they have vowed to uphold … before trying to enforce new ones that break them.
"The family applied to local authorities as required by law at the beginning of the school year, but were told they could not homeschool because there were no extraordinary circumstances." HSLDA explained. "The family has countered by insisting that Swedish courts have ignored important human rights treaties. Daniel Petersen says that Sweden has an obligation to uphold the European Convention of Human Rights, which parliament made part of Swedish law in 1995."
Petersen insists that Sweden denying his family the right to homeschool is hypocritical and above the law.
"It is commendable that Sweden strives for 'comprehensive and objective' education in school, but for the Swedish courts to use this claim as grounds for the denial of a fundamental human right is untenable and violates Sweden's obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights and other human rights norms that expressly protect the parents prior right to choose their children's education according to their own convictions," Petersen contended.
"Human rights cannot be arbitrarily taken away, neither can the state decide when to 'allow' such rights to be exercised; they are fundamental and inalienable for all human beings. If Sweden wants to live up to the title 'champion of human rights,' then it's time for the authorities to loosen their grip and let Sweden's parents take back what is rightfully ours."
Petersen's wife, Ellinor, agrees, arguing that the bi-cultural background she and her husband would like their daughter to glean from at home is simply not provided at school, therefore constituting an "extraordinary circumstance."
"My daughter is both American and Swedish … She needs to be brought up in a bilingual environment and also learn about the world with two cultural perspectives," Mrs. Peterson asserted. "This is difficult to achieve in a Swedish school. We also wish to empower our daughter to be actively engaged in directing her learning. The Swedish school law has a vision for students being able to receive individualized instruction, to reach as far as they are able – and that the students have influence over their education. We completely agree. In our case, this is best met with education outside of school."
Exodus from Swedish school "gestapo"
An exodus of homeschoolers from Sweden has swept across the borders in order to live with the freedom to educate their own. The National Association for Swedish Homeschoolers (ROHUS) president-in-exile Jonas Himmelstrand is the first to find fault with the way homeschoolers have been treated by Sweden's judicial system and legislature, particularly when it comes to the topsy-turvy courtroom proceedings of the Namdar's lawsuit. He anxiously awaits a better judgment in the Petersen's case so that the exodus throughout Europe can soon return to their home country.
"The 2010 school law was intended to effectively ban home education for any philosophical or religious reason, and that is what has happened," Himmelstrand argues. "Most homeschooling families I know have left Sweden rather than face the penalties. My family left Sweden in 2012 on recommendation of the local Child Protective Services who explicitly told me that we were not safe to continue homeschooling in Sweden. Also, we were fined over $15,000 for homeschooling our daughter the 2010-2011 school year. Fortunately the ROHUS helped us, otherwise our home might have been taken."
Regardless of how unbiased and inclusive Swedish judges and education officials may argue the public and private school curricula is, Himmelstrand says it still presses its own ideologies on kids.
"Saying that religious or philosophical convictions are not reasons enough for permission to home educate runs totally counter to a number of human rights conventions including the European Convention – a Swedish law," Himmelstrand insists. "The legislative history of the new law says that homeschooling isn't needed because schools are supposed to be objective and comprehensive – but what if people disagree with the values taught by the Swedish national curriculum? And what if they just believe that homeschooling is a better way for their children? That is the whole point of respecting parental convictions in education – so that children can be taught in accordance with the wishes of their parents, who know them best. I hope that this new case inspires the court to more carefully consider our school law."
Besides having his work cut out for him in Sweden legally assisting the Petersens in appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court, HSLDA director for global outreach Michael Donnelly has been working with families with similar problems in Germany. He believes that the Germans' neighbors to the north might have it even tougher.
"Sweden presents an extraordinarily difficult environment for homeschooling families – I don't know of any who still remain there," Donnelly shares. "Tragically, Swedish courts allow Swedish officials to get away with arbitrary decisions like this – mostly, I think, because homeschoolers are such a small minority with little political influence. That doesn't change the fact Swedish authorities are clearly violating fundamental human rights by denying parents the right to homeschool."
Donnelly contends that officials in Sweden must be stopped from oppressively bullying the minority of those who lawfully desire to educate their own in accordance with international (and legitimate Swedish) law.
"Swedish education authorities have an appalling vision of a society where they seem to think that any education outside of the schools is 'unnecessary,'" Donnelly concludes. "Such a mindset reveals a troubling hostility to the rights of parents and children to receive education outside of publicly approved schools."