How the Swedish Government voted against a human right
The Swedish Parliament passed a new school law on Tuesday, June 22, 2010.
This is the first completely re-written school law since 1985 and it is about 1500 pages long. Two or three of these pages concern ”completing the school obligation in other ways”, or in other words homeschooling. The new law even further restricts an already highly restrictive policy on homeschooling in Sweden, making it pretty much illegal. Here is the story.
What does the new law on homeschooling say?
The writing on homeschooling in the new law is basically the same as in the old law. The law requires a fully satisfactory alternative to school and that the authorities can look into the homeschooling. However, the new law adds a third requirement: "there must be exceptional circumstances". Lawyers have told us that “exceptional circumstances” in a Swedish juridical context means as close to a definite "no" as you can get, regardless of the circumstances.
Also in the motivational text of the law, which explains how the new law on homeschooling is to be interpreted, the following can be read (my translation):
"Current school conventions make it clear that the education in school shall be comprehensive and objective, and thereby be created so that all pupils can participate, no matter what religious or philosophical views the pupil or its legal guardian/s may have. In accordance with this it is the opinion of the Government that there is no need of a law to make possible homeschooling based on the religious of philosophical views of the family."
Page 523 in Prop. 2009/10:165 (Swedish Government proposition)
This means that religious or philosophical convictions are no longer valid reasons for homeschooling under the new school law.
How Rohus worked to stop the law
Using all of its rather limited resources Rohus has worked vigorously to stop this new law ever since it was proposed on June 15, 2009. Rohus was asked by the Ministry of Education to give a consideration on the new law, which we did in September 2009 in a full 228 pages. During the spring we have lobbied Members of Parliament and written countless e-mails to the Parliament and to the Government. We have worked hard with media getting more published articles and TV-spots on homeschooling in the last six months than probably in the last ten years all put together. We have sent many requests to the Minister of Education asking for a meeting, but have always been turned down. In the last week before the vote Rohus wrote one e-mail per day, each with a new argument for homeschooling, to all 349 Members of Parliament. Several members responded to us in agreement or disagreement. Obviously, there was a reaction to the e-mails we were sending.
In the vote of the new law the red-green opposition – the Social-democrats, the Green Party and the Leftist Party – voted against the law with the basic reason that there was not enough time to evaluate the law. The centre-right government side of the parliament voted for the law – the Liberal Party, the Moderate Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats. Thereby this centre-right Swedish Government approved of a law clearly violating human rights in Sweden.
No true majority for all aspects of the new lawIn truth, however, there was no majority in Parliament in favour of passing the whole law. We knew from the e-mail responses and from personal meetings with several Members of Parliament that they were probably a dozen members on the Government side who did not want to restrict homeschooling. How could the law still be passed? ”Well, such is democracy”, says a member of the Christian Democratic Party, one of those who did not want to restrict homeschooling. What this person meant was: The mandate of the Government, the party line and the bureaucratic procedures. There was no possibility to vote ”no” only to the pages on homeschooling, and a ”no” to the entire law would have inflicted a Government crises. In this way a human right was terminated with few people realizing it.
One dissident on the law in the Swedish Parliament
One member on the Government side, however, did not want to vote against her conviction and was replaced by another person in the vote. Maria Kornevik Jakobsson from the Centre Party was critical both to the restriction on homeschooling, and to the view of the new law to make day care and pre-school regarded as a form of school. She was concerned that this was first step to make day-care and pre-school compulsory. This made a new split in the current Government coalition visible: On one hand, the rationalist and neo-liberal Liberal Party and Moderate Party; On the other hand the more more traditionally liberal and developmentally oriented Christian Democrats and the Centre Party.
A weak Swedish democracy made the ban on homeschooling possible
The new school law has brought into the open a much bigger issue than the question of homeschooling. No democratic Government should have the possibility to abolish a human right through law. There needs to be rules to what a Government can do. In other countries this is called a constitution. Sweden lacks a true constitution and an elected Swedish Government has great freedom to do whatever it wishes. The only real control is at election every fourth year. If Sweden had been a true democracy, the Supreme Court council on new laws (Lagrådet) could have stopped the law. The Lagrådet also criticized the new key words in the law restricting homeschooling: ”exceptional circumstances” in chapter 24, paragraph 23. The Lagrådet found the term ill defined. But as the Lagrådet at present only has an advisory function the Government did not need to care, and indeed they did not.
The only power in Sweden seems to be able stop a human right from being terminated by law is the media. If the opinion in media is strong enough, the Government gets cold feet in fear of losing votes. The fifty or so Swedish Homeschooling families were simply too few, in spite of hard work and wonderful international support – too few to make sufficient headway in the media.
Human rights are not strong in Sweden
Human rights do not have strong support in Sweden. In Sweden it is possible for a human right to be abolished in Parliament based on prejudices and ignorance – this is exactly what we witnessed just now. This is the ultimate reason for homeschooling being restricted as close to being fully illegal as can be. The worst part is that the present Swedish Government actually used this democratic weakness. It is hard to write in a civilized way what Swedish homeschoolers feel about this.
Still, there is hope for the future
But not everything is on the dark side. A human right living in the heart of some citizens can never be abolished through a vote in Parliament. And Rohus has definitely made some inroads into top politics. Several embarrassed Members of Parliament have tried to sheer up Rohus board members during personal encounters outside the Parliament building this Monday. The say that homeschooling has not been made illegal, there is still some possibilities to get permission, especially for secular members of Rohus. Of course, Rohus will confront them with this if Swedish homeschoolers get problems with the new school law.
International pressure is paramount
During the informal talks on Monday we also learnt that the Swedish Government is not happy about the international attention the new law restricting homeschooling has attracted. Again, the international help given to Rohus has had a definite effect. A plausible conclusion could be that the Ministry of Education has lately realized that the restriction may not have been worth its political cost, but that stopping the law again was not possible for reasons of political prestige. An optimistic view of this conclusion would be that the Swedish Government does not want to see any spectacular cases of exile, political asylum in other countries or homeschoolers put in jail, and that it will do what it can to stop this. The 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.
In September Sweden has national elections and the law cannot be considered to be in effect until after the election. The outcome of the election is by no means certain and new parties could cause a complicated political situation. The fate of the new school law is therefore at present in the hands of the September election. Parts of the law could be very short-lived.
Homeschooling in Sweden will continue
Swedish homeschoolers will not be intimidated by the new law. They will continue to homeschool. They will either fight in court or go in political exile – they need not go further than the neighboring Nordic countries which all allow homeschooling under workable circumstances. Rohus will continue to work politically to change the law, through new connections established and through the new awareness of homeschooling which seems to be growing, even if it is slowly, in Parliament.
President of Rohus – The Swedish Association for Home Education
Please, also sign our petition HERE if you want to support us in our work to ensure that home education becomes a legal alternative to school.