The atmosphere for homeschool families in Sweden, where police and social service workers in 2009 abducted a 7-year-old boy from an airplane on which he and his family were moving to India, has plunged to “literally freezing” with a report that a top politician is recommending social services simply take children away from homeschooling families.
“Sweden’s educational policy is becoming increasingly totalitarian,” warned Michael Donnelly, the director of international affairs for the Home School Legal Defense Association, a U.S.-based group that advocates for students’ and parents’ rights worldwide.
“A country that does not permit home education is not really a free country,” he said.
According to the HSLDA, Lotta Edholm, a prominent leader of Sweden’s liberal party, opined in an article in Aftonbladet, a Swedish newspaper, that the nation’s social service laws should be changed to encourage social workers to take children away from homeschooling families.
“That the deputy minister of social affairs, Maria Larsson … should take an initiative to change the social services act so that the social authorities can intervene when children are kept away from school by their parents,” she wrote in her blog.
“This is the most direct and serious threat to date for homeschooling families in the Nordic country where the climate for homeschooling is literally freezing,” the HSLDA report said.
The organization said Jonas Himmelstrand, chief of the Swedish Association for Home Education, believes Edholm’s perception that homeschooling isn’t compatible with democracy simply inverts freedom.
“Edholm argues that because children have a right to an education, this means that public school is the only valid option,” Himmelstrand told the HSLDA. “With the knowledge we have today this is pure ignorance. Home education is an effective and perfectly legitimate way for children to learn. Edholm’s argument is totalitarian and breaches fundamental democratic principles. It’s fine for the government to provide schools, but it goes against basic human rights norms to force every child to go to school.”
He continued, “The government is not the parent. … Unfortunately, in Sweden the line between parents and the state has become strongly blurred.”
On Edholm’s blog, she was being criticized for her position.
“Instead of Edholm’s proposal to legislate that parents do not have any right to their own children … I suggest testing homeschooling,” wrote one forum participant.
Added another, “Lotta Edholm must recognize that some children will fare much better if ‘they are kept away from school’ and instead get a good family-based home education.”
Another warned the nation’s Liberal Party now is legislating based on “the best case opinions and in the worst case bias.”
“Lotta Edholm during the past week only further certified that,” the participant wrote.
Christer and Domenic Johansson
A fourth warned that the standards being sought in Sweden have been attempted before in Europe, with resounding failure.
“Why is Sweden the only country in modern times [to] have adopted the same laws as Adolf Hitler carried out [in the] 30s? … It is deeply shocking.”
Donnelly, who has worked closely in support of homeschooling families in a number of nations where they are being persecuted, said the change in Sweden is a dark turn for the worse.
“I’ve been working with Jonas Himmelstrand and know his case intimately. Jonas is an outstanding civic leader and spokesperson for the homeschool community, not just in Sweden, but globally. I’ve met his teenage daughter and know that he and his wife are doing a superb job of educating their children,” Donnelly said.
The HSLDA also works with the Alliance Defense Fund to challenge such violations of parental rights.
Roger Kiska, a European-based attorney working with the ADF, warned, “Parents have the right and authority to make decisions regarding their children’s education without government interference. Swedish policy on home education is at odds with recognized international legal standards that uphold the right of parents to direct the education of their children. Those standards include the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights documents, all of which recognize that parents have a fundamental right to choose what kind of education their children will receive.”
A prime example of the problem the Swedish government is creating is the family of Domenic Johansson. He was 7 in 2009 when he was “taken from his parents while all three were aboard an airplane about to depart for India, the mother’s home country.”
Authorities cited the family’s previous homeschooling, even though the Johansson’s were leaving Sweden permanently, as the reason for taken the child into custody.
Swedish social services agents now have kept Domenic in foster care for the last 30 months. Domenic’s parents have not seen him in over a year, HSLDA said. Recently, a Swedish court denied the social services’ attempt to terminate the Johanssons’ parental rights. HSLDA and ADF have filed a lawsuit with European Court of Human Rights against Sweden over the case.
“HSLDA, along with the Alliance Defense Fund, supports families like the Johanssons and Himmelstrands who choose to homeschool,” said Donnelly. “The right of parents to choose the kind of education their children receive is a fundamental human right … Somehow Swedish politicians have lost their way and are ignoring these basic human rights. Sweden has joined Germany in repressing educational freedom. It’s important that free people stand up to governments who persecute their own people.”
He said Sweden has been attacking homeschooling freedom for several years. In 2010 the parliament modified the nation’s basic education law to prevent parents from getting permission to homeschool their children.
The previous law had allowed it, with approval from local education agencies. But the change means only those families with “exceptional circumstances” will be granted permission, and it created a new criminal prosecution for parents who don’t submit to the demands of the state-run educational system.
Now, the city council in Uppsala has gone to court seeking enforcement of $26,000 in fines against the Himmelstrand family.
“I think that the politicians want to set an example. I am an international critic of Swedish family policy and of Swedish repression of homeschooling. I have spoken in the U.N., in Canada and in the European Union on these themes. This seems to be an attempt to force me to leave my country – something that I would prefer not to do, but will do if I have to, in order to protect my family,” Himmelstrand said.
According to the HSLDA, Swedish constitutional attorney Percy Bratt believes the nation is getting dogmatic over the issue.
“It does not appear they have even remotely grappled with the facts or research brought by many of the homeschooling families who by all accounts are doing a very good job of educating their children,” he said.
WND has reported previously on several cases in which children were taken by authorities in Sweden over homeschooling. But then a private detective literally abducted back the children and reunited them with their parents who had moved out of the country.
The conflicts in Sweden are getting as contentious as in Germany, where a long list of families simply have fled their home country instead of face the crushing fines, jail sentences and even destruction of families that government officials demand.
It was in a dramatic case just last year, involving the Romeike family, that a U.S. immigration judge granted them political asylum in the U.S. because of the persecution they would face in they return to Germany. The Obama administration is appealing that ruling, seeking to send the family back.
Donnelly said what happens in Germany and now Sweden needs to be noted in the United States because of the habit officials have of adopting controversial European actions.
“In her book ‘What Is Right for Children,’ Emory University School of Law professor Martha Albertson-Fineman makes the argument that it is not enough that children have the opportunity to go to public school – they must all go to public school, meaning that homeschooling and private schools should be banned,” he said.
“This is one of the reasons why it is important for American homeschoolers to be interested in what happens overseas. By fighting these ideas wherever they occur globally, we can prevent them from gaining traction here,” he continued.