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Developments in Scandinavia

Updated 2 July 2010:  New Swedish School Law Sharply Restricts Freedom

Sweden´s Riksdag adopted a complex, 1500 page school law on June 22.

Only vague outlines have appeared in the press, but the reports are alarming. The new law apparently makes home schooling almost impossible and removes religious motivations as an allowable basis for home schooling. Home schools were already severely limited in Sweden. [For a particularly shocking case, see this link or this link.]

Another recent case that demonstrates both the arbitrary power of Swedish authorities and also that their objective is to indoctrinate children and to prevent parents from transmitting their own values involves the President of the Swedish Home Schooling Association. This case illustrates that the authorities ignored expert evidence as to what was in the child´s best interest.

The new law also appears to restrict religious schools sharply and limit severely the extent to which they can incorporate faith and worship in their school life.

The provisions of the new law are less than clear and have received little discussion in the Swedish press. What is clear is that the law is very long and very poorly written [Sweden is not, of course, the only country in which long, complex, poorly written laws have been adopted this year]. Sweden has a Law Review Council (lagrådet) that reviews proposed laws. In March this council severely criticized the proposed school law, stating that it had so many shortcomings it should not even have been submitted for review. The council noted that some provisions appeared to violate Sweden´s Constitution (grundlag) and many provisions were highly ambiguous. In particular, it grants broad and vague new powers to the government to regulate schools. The opinion of the law council is, however, only advisory. Furthermore, Swedish courts have much less power to overturn legislation. The Education Minister's press secretary dismissed the law council's critique as involving only "technical issues" and said that "relatively few" changes were made in response. [Dagens Nyheter article in Swedish .]

The Education Minister had described the law as promoting "knowledge, freedom of choice, and security," but it appears to restrict freedom of choice severely, especially concerning religious issues, and to impose a high degree of uniformity on all schools. Private schools will apparently be forced to become identical to government schools, although there is also language suggesting that Confessional schools may continue to exist under increased scrutiny and restrictions.

From what I have seen in a brief skimming of an early draft of the law [1029 pages in Swedish at this link], it appears to have been drafted in Provincetown, Massachusetts. (Or more likely, Provincetown copies its laws from Sweden.) That is, the "security" it provides appears to be focused on protecting students from "harassment," which is generally code language for promoting deviant behavior, imposing further censorship, "protecting" students from exposure to Christianity, and the like. No Swedish law would be state such things this clearly, of course.

Although the press reports do not mention this (such a mention would be most politically incorrect in Sweden), it is likely that the new law is aimed largely at the rapidly growing Muslim schools. If these resemble Muslim schools in other countries, they are probably controlled by radical Islamists — but no Swedish journalist would dare write such a thing. On the other hand, a Social Demokrat spokesman complained that the new law was insufficiently restrictive on "confessional" schools. That term in Sweden is often code for Muslim schools, but the Social Demokrat more likely had in mind Christian schools. The Social Demokrats are, of course viscerally opposed to any schools not controlled by the state.

Because the new law is so unclear, it is not clear to what extent it will affect schools such as the Lutheran High School in Gothenburg (L.M. Engströms Gymnasiet). It does clearly vastly increase the government´s powers, however, and the next time a (more) leftist government takes power one can expect it to use these powers against believers.

There is also considerable information in English about the home schooling aspects of the new law at the website of the Swedish Home Schooling Association (ROHUS)

Chris Barnekov [summary and analysis based on recent Swedish press reports]

Further update: Why should we care? Can we help? Click here for more information

New Confessional Network Formed in Norway

Six Confessional Lutheran Groups to work together click here for the story

There have been further developments in March ... update to come.

Updated 1 April 2009: Sweden enacts "Gender-neutral Marriage" Law

Pastoral letter on marriage from the bishops of the Mission Province click here.

Sweden's Riksdag (Parliament) adopted a "gender-neutral marriage law" on April 1 by a vote of 261 to 22, with 16 abstentions. The law declares same-sex marriages equal in all respects to man-woman marriages.

A controversy has erupted over whether the Church of Sweden will perform same-sex weddings. Note that "services of blessing" for same-sex "partnerships" were recently approved; but the CoS has thus far insisted on reserving the terms "marriage" and "wedding" for man-woman marriages.

The CoS national Board (Kyrkostyrelsen) has, however, circulated a proposed revised wedding service. Responses are due April 15 and the Board will make a recommendation June 12. The question will be decided by the General Synod this Fall.

On February 6, nine of Sweden's 13 diocesan bishops published a joint statement in a major Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, advocating that the Church's legal authority to perform marriages be abolished. That is, a civil ceremony would be required to create a legal marriage -- the Church could hold a wedding service (before or after), but this would not affect the couple's legal status. The bishops evidently hope that this would avoid strife over whether pastors would be required to perform same-sex "weddings." The new law is described as including a "conscience clause" that pastors would not be forced to perform same-sex weddings [but a "conscience clause" was also included when women were first "ordained" and was later abrogated].

This controversy may help Americans understand the manner in which Sweden's political parties control the Church of Sweden.
    Here are translations of three recent publications responding to the bishops' statement (each will open in a new window).
  1. A column from Svenska Dagbladet that describes the political control of the Church
  2. An article from the Church of Sweden's periodical that describes the political platforms of the parties heading into this Fall's Church Elections.
  3. An editorial from the Confessional Lutheran weekly, Kyrka och Folk, commenting on the situation