STOCKHOLM — Homeschooling advocates and human rights activists around the world are celebrating after a recent appeals court ruling in Sweden came down on October 17: A unanimous verdict affirming that a Jewish family in Gothenburg has the right to homeschool in accordance with their faith despite a virtual ban on the practice implemented last year. However, even with the apparent victory, experts and activists say there is a long way to go before most persecuted Swedish homeschoolers can exercise their rights in peace.
The case in Gothenburg surrounded the Namdar family, Jewish Chabad-Lubavitch representatives to Sweden, who were being threatened and fined by local authorities for educating their children at home and through an online Jewish educational service. At issue: Parliament adopted a massive new education law in 2010 purporting to ban homeschooling for religious and philosophical reasons except in “exceptional circumstances” while forcing all “private” schools to teach the controversial government curriculum.
The legislation sparked an international outcry and an exodus among homeschoolers, many of whom fled to other countries to live as political exiles unless and until the situation in Sweden improves. Some families decided to stay and either defy the law or fight the ban. Despite the backlash, however, the persecution has not relented, with numerous families still under threat for exercising their right to homeschool.
In the Namdar case, the three judges on the appeals court for the southwestern region of Sweden, citing religious freedom and the high-quality education received by the children, ruled against city officials. According to the court, the family’s situation — their religious needs would be hard to fulfill in government school, all of the children are receiving an excellent education, and the new law cannot contravene the state’s obligation to protect the rights of citizens — qualify as “exceptional” circumstances.
“This is a verdict in which the Administrative Court of Appeal has used the provisions in the law to reach a commonsense solution for the children and the family involved,” explained attorney Ruby Harrold-Claesson, who also serves as president of the pro-family Nordic Committee for Human Rights. “The Administrative Court of Appeal in Gothenburg deserves to be commended for this verdict.” The municipality is expected to appeal and other embattled homeschooling parents will likely cite the verdict in their own cases, she told The New American in an e-mail.
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