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The chief of a homeschooling organization in Sweden, where officials recently made the activity illegal, has fled his home country because of the badgering, fines, court hearings and threats over the best way to teach his own children.
According to a report in the New American, a publication of the John Birch Society, Jonas Himmelstrand of the Swedish Association for Home Education has left his home country because of, among other things, attempts by the government to fine him $26,000 for homeschooling.
The report said Himmelstrand quietly moved his family to the Aland Islands between Sweden and Finland, which are outside of the jurisdiction of Swedish homeschooling laws.
While he earlier had considered it worth staying and fighting for the rights of parents to decide the best education for their children, he said in the report that it was clear it was time to join the other homeschool families who already have fled Sweden.
With the attack launched by the government on parental rights, Sweden joins Germany as nations where families have been forced to flee because of government persecution. It was more than a year ago when the Romeike family of Germany was granted asylum in the United States by a judge who noted the persecution the family would face if forcibly returned to Germany, something the Obama administration is attempting to do in court.
If things have not progressed to that point in Sweden, it may be because the nation’s radical anti-homeschooling law only was approved two years ago. Germany’s dates from the 1930s when Adolf Hitler was vowing to take the nation’s children and teach them in government schools only.
The U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association, which advocates for homeschoolers worldwide, had posted a report only days earlier calling on homeschoolers and supporters of parental rights from around the world to contact Swedish authorities.
“Sweden continues down a dark path of totalitarianism in education,” the plea for help said. “Although it is likely there are fewer than 100 homeschoolers in the country of 9 million, Swedish officials appear to be vigorously seeking to stomp out the small community.”
The organization cited the “harassment, hefty fines, referral to the courts, and threatening to or actually removing children.”
In the statement, Himmelstrand said family advocates should flood Swedish authorities with emails and telephone calls.
“Please write to the Swedish embassy in your country on our behalf and state that it is a mistake to equate the compulsory education requirement with mandatory school attendance,” he wrote.
HSLDA reported that Himmelstrand and his wife had homeschooled their three children for years before authorities in their village abruptly denied them permission in 2008.
The family faced fines of more than $26,000 for their decision to continue providing their children the best education they could.
HSLDA and the Alliance Defense Fund have been fighting on behalf of the family in Sweden’s appellate court.
But the fact their case was on appeal did not stop their local municipality from demanding the money.
The HSLDA report continued, “The Angerstigs are another family who have endured persecution for their decision to homeschool. Lisa Angerstig, an American with a master’s degree in business who is married to a Swede, has homeschooled her children several times with permission in recent years. She ran into trouble when the Uppsala government suddenly decided to prohibit her from homeschooling her older son in 2009. A court verdict stated that their son had to go to school and that the parents would be fined as long as he stays home.
“The alarming case of Domenic Johansson warns of the serious threat from Swedish authorities. In June 2009 Swedish police forcibly removed then 7-year-old Domenic from his parents, Christer and Annie, without a warrant, placed him in state custody, and have not yet charged the Johanssons with a crime.”
Michael Donnelly, director of international relations at HSLDA, explained the gravity of the Swedish situation and the pivotal opportunity for homeschoolers around the world to support the families.
“Homeschooling is legal in the United States and in many other countries only after decades of tumultuous legislative and legal conflicts. Swedish families are now fighting for their basic rights. Please support Swedish homeschoolers and send the Swedish embassy in your country a respectful yet persuasive email as soon as possible, explaining how homeschooling has worked for your family and calling upon Sweden to allow parents to choose home education. The right of parents to choose the kind of education their children receive is a fundamental human right recognized by Article 26, part 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The New American report said that Himmelstrand showed up at the latest meeting demanded by social services agencies in Sweden “after making sure that his family was safe on the Aland Islands in Finland.”
The family had responded to the demand for $26,000 in fines “with a strongly worded letter asking officials to clarify whether they truly intended to destroy an innocent family based on such a controversial political principle.”
“Incredibly, the local government responded with a letter imposing yet another fine. And that, Himmelstrand said, was the last straw. The family moved promptly thereafter, not making the news public until everyone was safely beyond the grasp of Swedish officials,” the report said.
WND has reported on several cases in which children were taken by authorities in Sweden over homeschooling. In several of those cases the families moved out of the nation, then had a private detective seize back the children to be reunited with their parents beyond the border.
Donnelly has warned that Americans should be alarmed, too.
“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,” Donnelly said.