By Peter J. Smith

STOCKHOLM, July 8, 2010 ( – Sweden’s parliament gave a crushing blow to parental rights two weeks ago, passing a law that makes homeschooling legal only in “extraordinary circumstances,” reports the Home School Leal Defense Association (HSLDA). The law excludes religious or philosophical convictions as legitimate reasons for home education.

The parliament passed what the HSLDA called a “sweeping” reform of the nation’s education system on June 22 in the form of a 1500 page bill, two pages of which addressed the topic of home education.

The new law may take effect as quickly as August 1.

Previous regulations specified that home instruction must be a “fully satisfactory alternative” to state-run education, and officials may inspect homeschooling families to make sure they are keeping up to speed. The new law keeps the previous regulations but adds a third, highly restrictive clause: parents may only homeschool after they have demonstrated “exceptional circumstances.” Despite the fact that the council of the Swedish supreme court charged with reviewing the laws recommended a clarification on the meaning of the ambiguous term “exceptional circumstances,” the government moved ahead without doing so.

While homeschooling families in the country have already faced persecution and punitive fines from school officials for homeschooling, the new law essentially gives carte blanche authority for school officials to deny homeschooling applications in any and all circumstances.

Parents who have religious, moral, or philosophical reasons will not get a break. In fact the law explicitly states, “It is the opinion of the government that there is no need of a law to make space for homeschooling based on the religious or philosophical views of the family.”

According to the HSLDA, the Swedish Homeschool Association (ROHUS) fought tooth and nail to oppose the law in Sweden’s parliament, heavily lobbying both parliamentarians and the media on behalf of the nation’s estimated 50 or so families engaged in home education.

“We have worked hard with the media, getting more articles and TV spots on homeschooling in the last six months than probably in the last ten years put together,” said Jonas Himmelstrand, president of ROHUS.

The group also gave the government a 228-page analysis of the proposed law’s impact on the rights of parents to oversee the education of their children. However, repeated requests for face-to-face meetings with the Education Minister were rejected.

While they found some support among Sweden’s 349 MPs, ROHUS stated that they did not get enough traction in the media owing to the fewness of their numbers.

But the battle may not yet be over. Himmelstrand said that no real majority existed for passing the law in its entirety, as some objected to other parts of the bill, such as provisions that integrate day-care and pre-school into the education system. But members were forced to vote with their party, said Himmelstrand, with leaders insisting that a “no” vote would lead to a “government crisis.”

Because Sweden has no supreme court with the authority of judicial review, the key to overturning the law will be to effect a change in parliament – and elections are in September.

“The outcome of the election is by no means certain and new parties could cause a complicated political situation,” said Himmelstrand. “The fate of the new school law is therefore at present in the hands of the September election.”

“An optimistic view,” continued Himmelstrand, “would be that the Swedish government does not want to [encounter] any spectacular cases of exile, political asylum in other countries or homeschoolers put in jail”– which is the case with Germany, where homeschooling is banned. “This could lead to a mild interpretation of the new law, and international pressure will certainly help in this respect. The law could be short-lived.”

One such form of pressure could be appealing the law to the European Court of Human Rights; however the ECHR in the past has ruled that the state interest in education trumps the rights of parents to be the primary educators of their children.

A challenge to Sweden’s June 25, 2009 abduction of Dominic Johannsen from his parents for homeschooling is now making its way through the ECHR. The case Johansson v. Sweden is being litigated by Alliance Defense Fund and HSLDA attorneys on behalf of Christer and Annie Johansson, who have only been allowed to see their only son for one hour every five weeks since last June.

The Johanssons were on a plane to move permanently to India, when police and social services stormed in and snatched Dominic. ADF and HSLDA filed the case with the ECHR when the Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden refused to review a lower court’s December 2009 ruling in Johansson v. Gotland Social Services that affirmed the government’s contention that they had every right to seize the child and raise him.

With files from the Home School Legal Defense Association.

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