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October 22, 2012

Abuse Remains Norm Despite Major Court Victory

An appellate judge in Gothenburg, Sweden has issued a striking verdict that allows a family to continue schooling five of their children at home. The Namdar family, representatives of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, said they were committed to fighting for their right to give their children a Jewish education.

“I’m grateful to G-d for this judge’s insight and sensitivity, ruling as he did with respect and appreciation for religious freedom and allowing us to provide our children with the kind of Jewish education and yiddishkeit that we want for them,” Rabbi Alexander Namdar told the Lubavitch News Service on October 17.

Swedish authorities had threatened the Namdar family in January 2012 with fines for each day their children did not attend the local Swedish school. The family went to court to question the Gothenburg municipality’s decision to force them to comply with Swedish school law which states that homeschooling is allowed only in “exceptional circumstances” and never based upon the philosophical or religious view of a family. However, the judge in this case found that the family was doing a fine job and that Sweden’s obligations included respect for the family’s convictions.

“Special Situation”

“One part of this decision is that this family is in a very special situation with regards to their religious freedom,” Judge Per Olof Dahlin, one of three judges who ruled on the case, told WorldNetDaily reporter Alex Newman.

“There is a risk of harassment (for the children), and we considered that they earlier had education at home and online (for many years),” the judge added, pointing out that the family’s many children were doing extremely well in the world, with some going on to get advanced degrees. “If you consider all these things together it qualifies as exceptional circumstances under the law.”

“As great as the Namdars’ victory is, however, it does not end the persecution endured by many other families in Sweden.”

Mike Donnelly
HSLDA Director of International Relations

Michael Donnelly, HSLDA’s director of international relations, says that a single victory—while noteworthy and helpful to this family—does not change things for the dozens of other families being persecuted and the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others who would like to homeschool their children.

“The Namdar family’s victory over the Gothenburg kommun shows that at least one Swedish court understands the important of protecting the right of parents to choose how their children are educated—an international human right that has been ignored and trampled in Sweden in recent years,” Donnelly said. “As great as the Namdars’ victory is, however, it does not end the persecution endured by many other families in Sweden. Domenic Johansson is still not home with his parents. Jonas Himmelstrand and many others have fled the country because numerous other courts, including Sweden’s Supreme Court, continue to turn a deaf ear to their pleas for justice and protection of their basic rights.”

Fleeing to Freedom

Just last week, Rohus, the Swedish national home education association, paid an exorbitant fine for one of its members who had been homeschooling. The fine would have crushed the family, who has now fled the country for freedom in other parts of Europe. National change in Sweden requires action by the Rikstag in view of the Swedish Supreme Court’s recent denial of an appeal of equally compelling cases.

On October 1, the appeals of the Himmelstrand family, now refugees in Finland, and the Angerstigs, homeschooling in Uppsala, Sweden, were rejected by Sweden’s highest court. HSLDA has been working with these families and is considering further legal action against Sweden to vindicate them and seek justice for all who wish to homeschool.

Jonas Himelstrand, Rohus president in exile, says the decision is limited to its fact even if worthy of celebration.

“The Kammarrätten’s interpretation of the wording ‘exceptional circumstances’ in the new law in this case has been the lifestyle of the family due to their religious convictions,” said Himelstrand. “While having consideration for the religious traditions of the family is an unusual and highly welcome development in Sweden, the Kammarrätten does not refer to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is Swedish law, nor to any other human rights documents. It simply states that it would be difficult for school to cater for those concrete lifestyle requirements. The children use an online school connected to their religious conviction which the court accepts. It is unclear to what degree other home education families could benefit from this verdict without such specific circumstances,” he said.

Support for Homeschoolers

There is much work to be done in Sweden to re-establish the basic rights of parents to homeschool. That is why the upcoming Global Home Education Conference (GHEC) 2012 in Berlin, Germany is so important. In Germany, there are several new cases of persecution against homeschooling families, including the Wunderlich family who lost custody of their children and now face criminal charges over homeschooling. Hundreds of homeschoolers and policy makers will gather in Germany to discuss the state of the homeschool movement and to assess how to support those in countries like Germany and Sweden who are denied this basic human right.

HSLDA calls on the Swedish Rikstag and Swedish courts to follow the ruling of the Namdar case and take immediate action to address this growing national crisis in Sweden. Families should not have to choose between their homeland and homeschooling. While we celebrate with the Namdar family over their victory, we will continue to fight for families like the Angerstigs, Himmelstrands, and others who have been abused by their own government until justice is done.

For more information on persecuted families visit the Global Home Education Conference 2012 website.