Sweden—the Next Germany for Homeschoolers?
Home School Legal Defense Association has sent a formal letter of inquiry to the head of a local Swedish social services unit as well as several other Swedish and American government officials inquiring about the case of Annie and Christer Johansson of Gottland, Sweden.
Christer and Annie Johansson are the parents of Dominic Johansson, who was forcibly removed from a plane by a fully armed police unit minutes before the family was due to take off to start a new life in India, Annie’s home country.
The couple had sold all of their belongings and were planning to minister to the poor in India. Annie was also looking forward to reconnecting with her family, whom she had not seen since moving to Sweden with Christer after they married in 2000.
HSLDA President J. Michael Smith expressed concern in a letter to the Swedish Authorities on this case.
"If the facts as stated are true, it appears that the family has been subjected to a gross injustice and the best interests of Dominic are not being upheld. This case is particularly alarming in light of a recent proposal to the Swedish parliament to impose severe restrictions on home education."
In the letter, copied to Swedish ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs, Social Affairs and the Justice Minister, as well as the U.S. ambassador to Sweden and the Swedish ambassador in the United States, Smith has requested that the agency return the child to the family.
"If any of the information as stated above is inaccurate, we would welcome correction of the record. If, however, the situation is as I have recounted, we respectfully request that you reconsider your decisions and return Dominic to his family immediately. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate a grievous harm upon the Johanssons."
"In Pain and Despair…"
Mats Tunehaga is President of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. In a blog post today at the Swedish newspaper Varlen Idag he noted that the situation is beyond tragic.
"Christer Johansson called me again this morning. He was crying softly, obviously in pain and despair. His wife Annie was taken into emergency room—again. She is suffering from a severe trauma, hard to comprehend. Their son has been taken away from them and put into foster care. Why? They wanted to home school their child, 7-year-old Dominic."
Both parents are Christians and were treated like terrorists, notes Tunehaga.
"Annie is from a Christian family in India, and they had planned for some time to move there to live, work and to homeschool Dominic. Due to the harassment from Swedish authorities the trip was delayed. But finally in June this year they were on their way, sitting on the plane bound for India. Then the police came rushing into the plane—as if they were to apprehend dangerous terrorists—and snatched Dominic, saying he is to be taken into care. Can anyone imagine?"
"Gross Disregard for Family Integrity…"
HSLDA Staff Attorney Michael Donnelly has also been in contact with the family.
"Christer told me that the family originally planned to move to India in the spring of 2008. They decided they would homeschool Dominic in order to minimize the disruption of pulling him out of school when they moved and also because Dominic requested it noting that the local public school he had visited was too noisy and stressful," said Donnelly.
Donnelly expressed grave concern over the situation.
"This kind of gross disregard for family integrity and simple human decency is becoming the hallmark of countries like Germany, and now apparently Sweden, where the state is more interested in coerced uniformity than in protecting fundamental human rights and fostering pluralism. In Germany, courts have said that homeschooling creates dangerous ‘parallel societies’—an absurd notion that grotesquely turns the notion of pluralism on its head."
"He ‘Didn’t Care about My Right’…"
Since homeschooling is legal in Sweden the parents contacted the Swedish Ministry of Education as their son approached compulsory school attendance age. They were informed it was the local principal’s responsibility to assist them with home education and that he would provide materials. Contacting the local school principal, Christer told him that the Ministry of Education had informed him to get in touch with the local school. The conversation was short because the principal informed Christer that the school law required that Dominic attend school.
Christer was surprised by the Principal’s more hostile response when he followed up later after not hearing from the school.
"He was very short and not at all in favor of homeschooling. I told him that it was my right under Swedish law to homeschool and that I was making contact with him to make the necessary arrangements and to get the materials. We were planning to leave Sweden in just a month or two. Mr. Eneqvist told me that he ‘didn’t care about my right’ that I didn’t have a ‘right to educate my son like that’ and that he was going to take the matter farther," Christer said.
This unexpected turn of events caused them to delay their move to India.
"I was very upset about this as were my wife and son. We were planning to leave Sweden, and I had promised my wife and son that we would be moving to India, but I felt that I had to stay to make sure that this dispute was resolved properly. I didn’t want to leave Sweden on such a sour note," said Christer.
The family were contacted by social workers and the school about the requirement to send Dominic to school but decided to wait for more senior officials to respond. They continued to provide formal instruction to Dominic.
"Both Annie and I believe in education. We are both very studious. Annie is qualified to teach at the university level, and I had been a teacher in the community before. Dominic is a very bright boy, and so we made sure to provide him with lots of materials that were interesting to him. We started teaching him formally when he was six." Christer said.
In August 2008 the case reached the local school board. Christer sent a letter to a school board member to ask if they could try to restart the discussion about homeschooling. Christer recognized that he and the principal hadn’t gotten off on the right foot and he was determined to try again. However the board member told Christer she was "too busy at the moment" to meet with him.
"She told me that she couldn’t meet with me. I sent letters to the school board that I had a right to educate my son at home according to Swedish law. I called them and tried to get them to meet with me, so we could discuss this. Whenever I received any communication from them all they wanted to talk about was getting Dominic to school. They didn’t answer my other questions or respond to my letters."
"Dominic Had to Go to School…"
In November, 2008 Christer recalls, they received their first fine.
"In November we received a letter from the school board fining us 500 Swedish kroners (about $80) per day. I called to speak with the school board about the fine and whether it would prevent us from moving to India. When I asked her about this she told me that it meant we couldn’t leave. I told her I wanted to homeschool Dominic, and that I would like to have a meeting to discuss it. She told me the school law required that Dominic be in school. She just wasn’t interested in helping us. But I kept insisting on a meeting, and finally in January 2009 the school superintendent and a lawyer for the school met with me. But it was more of the same. All they wanted to tell me was that Dominic had to go to school. I asked them if I could leave the country, and they said, yes, you can leave the country, but Dominic has to go to school. They just weren’t interested in having a dialogue with me and trying to help us educate our son as we thought best," Christer recounted.
A court hearing over the matter was held in May 2009.
"In May we went to the court about the fines. The judge said that fining wasn’t the best way to deal with this situation. When I told the judge we wanted to leave the country he asked me when. I told him we would leave in about six weeks. He said ‘OK.’ We told him we had tried several times to leave, but that with the entire goings on we felt we had to stay to resolve the matter before we left. Then about two weeks before leaving we received a call from social workers telling us that they were going to have another investigation. When we told them that we were leaving she said, ‘OK, we understand; we will close the case,’ " Christer said.
The family, currently represented by state-appointed attorneys, is pursuing an appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court in Stockholm. They continue to express their willingness to cooperate with the authorities.
"We Are not Permitted to Call Him…"
"We have always expressed our willingness to cooperate with the authorities and even to send Dominic to school. We believe we have a right to homeschool our son, and we believe that these social workers have harmed our family greatly. My wife and son and I are under extreme pain from this separation. On his eighth birthday just a few weeks ago we were only able to see him for two hours at the office of the social workers. We are not permitted to call him or write to him. And his grandparents were not able to see him either. In the last three months since he was taken we have only been permitted to see him for a total of about eight hours. We cannot believe that such a thing as this could happen in a country like Sweden. We are doing our best to be kind and cooperative. All we want is to have our son home so we can get back to being a family again," Christer said.
In his letter, Smith noted the serious harm occurring as a result of this severe response on the part of the authorities.
"Despite the court and your agency’s knowledge and implied approval of the planned relocation, your agency seized Dominic, and it appears that the primary motivation was opposition to him being homeschooled. Swedish news reports quote local officials saying that the seizure was necessary in order to ‘protect [Dominic’s] right to education.’ News reports also indicate that both Dominic and his parents were seriously harmed by this action and continue to suffer harm from continued separation and limited visits—four visits totaling eight hours since his seizure on June 25th. It was reported today that Mrs. Johansson is now hospitalized as a result of this and the trauma from the violent and unexpected seizure of and continued separation from her only child."
Smith pointed out that homeschooling is legal, and that removing a child from his parents’ custody because they choose to homeschool is disgraceful.
"We understand that Swedish law permits parents to educate their children at home and that the local school board is responsible for overseeing the process of notification. However, it appears that in this case, the local school board ignored normal procedure, did not meet with the family to assist them in pursuing home education, and instead fined them and referred the matter to the local court. Our information indicates that the court declared the fines to be unnecessary, and the judge did not prohibit the family from leaving Sweden although he knew they were planning to relocate to India on or about June 25th, 2009."
Donnelly, who coordinates efforts to support German homeschoolers, expressed HSLDA’s ongoing concern about this type of treatment of homeschoolers.
"In Germany parents who choose to homeschool are treated severely by authorities. The Jugendamt (Youth Welfare Office) and Schulamt (local school offices) often work together to remove children from their families, impose exorbitant fines in the tens of thousands of dollars and in some cases seek prison sentences simply because families choose to educate their own children at home."
Donnelly noted that there seems to be an increase in these kinds of attacks against homeschoolers in Europe.
"The case of the Johanssons may be the first shot in extending this type of repression to another European country—all in the name of uniformity and conformity. This spectre is raising its head not just in Sweden but in other places including Great Britain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland where there are attempts to impose additional restrictions on home education."
It appears that the Swedish parliament is poised to follow in Germany’s footsteps.
ROHUS, the Swedish homeschooling association, has expressed great concern over proposed legislation that would severely restrict parents’ rights to homeschool in Sweden.
According to the ROHUS website, the new law would only allow home education if there were "extraordinary circumstances." Given the authority local school officials currently have over homeschooling in Sweden such legislation would effectively eliminate homeschooling and result in similar conditions homeschoolers face in Germany.
"The Cornerstone for all Freedom…"
In remarks to the World Congress of Families, Michael Farris, founder and chairman of HSLDA and president of ParentalRights.org, an organization dedicated to protecting Americans from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by passing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, agreed.
"Any nation that severely restricts the ability of parents to choose alternative forms of education, including home education, in the name of creating national unity, cannot call itself a free nation. Freedom necessarily requires the individual to have the liberty to think differently and believe differently than programs instituted by the current rulers of any nation. Educational freedom is the cornerstone for all freedom of thought and conscience."
Sam Ericsson, president of Advocates International, an international network of lawyers committed to promoting human rights, the sanctity of human life and religious freedom, called this a case of "state-napping."
"This is statism with a vengeance. The state and their social service workers have total power to violate the most fundamental rights—parents caring for their children."
As the world’s largest homeschool advocacy organization, HSLDA is concerned about what appears to be a growing appetite for state regulation in Europe over homeschooling.
"Thinly Veiled Statism…"
"I don’t think it is coincidental that all the countries that are, or have imposed increased regulations on homeschooling, are state parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or that these are countries that embrace socialism and where the government has a high degree of involvement in families," said Donnelly.
"The motivating principle behind the UNCRC and thinly veiled statism requires that the education mechanisms of a culture be co-opted to produce uniformity that will support the state approved ‘ideal.’ That is what German courts have said in their comments about ‘parallel societies.’ It appears that this attitude motivated the social workers who ‘state-napped’ this child. The idea is that if you live outside ‘our’ definition of ‘normal’, then we are going to step in and apply our opinion of the ‘best interests of the child.’ This is precisely what the UNCRC has in mind and why most Americans are so opposed to it."
Smith called on people to pray for the Johanssons.
"This is a hurting family, and we ask all of our members to join in uplifting this family and remembering them in their prayers and with expressions of support."