We continue to follow the unfolding of events in Sweden concerning the abduction by the government of Domenic Johannson from his parents because he was being homeschooled. On June 25, 2010, the Home School Legal Defense Association reported the following:
BATTLE ESCALATES OVER HOMESCHOOLED CHILD SEIZED BY SWEDISH GOVERNMENT
On June 25, attorneys with the Home School Legal Defense Association and Alliance Defense Fund filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights asking it to hear the case of a 7-year-old boy seized by Swedish authorities because his parents homeschool.
We are gravely concerned about this case because of the threat it represents to other homeschooling families, said Mike Donnelly, staff attorney for HSLDA and one of nearly 1,700 attorneys in the ADF alliance. In response to our inquiries, Swedish authorities have cited the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child to explain and defend their actions. If the U.S. were to ever ratify this treaty, as the White House and some members of Congress desire, then this sort of thing could occur here, he added.
Swedish authorities forcibly removed Domenic Johansson from his parents, Christer and Annie Johansson, in June 2009 from a plane they had boarded to move to Annies home country of India. The officials did not have a warrant nor have they charged the Johanssons with any crime. The officials seized the child because they believe homeschooling is an inappropriate way to raise a child and insist the government should raise Domenic instead. Social services authorities have placed Domenic in foster care as well as a government school and are only allowing Christer and Annie to visit their son for one hour every five weeks.
Parents have the right and authority to make decisions regarding their childrens education without government interference, said ADF Legal Counsel Roger Kiska, who is based in Europe. A government trying to create a cookie-cutter child in its own image should not be allowed to violate this basic and fundamental human right. The refusal of Swedish authorities to respect that right has left us no choice but to take this case to the European Court of Human Rights.
HSLDA and ADF attorneys decided to file Johansson v. Sweden with the ECHR when the Supreme Administrative Court of Sweden refused to review a lower courts December 2009 ruling in Johansson v. Gotland Social Services that found that the government was within its rights to seize the child. The lower court cited minor post-seizure medical concerns with Domenic as well as the provably false charges that homeschoolers do not perform well academically and are not well socialized as reasons to uphold the apparently permanent seizure of young Domenic.
We have also been following reports that the nation of Sweden has been considering banning homeschooling completely, along the lines of the nation of Germany where so many homeschoolers have been persecuted and even had to flee. In a related item Alex Newman of The New American reported the following concerning the obviously misnamedThe new Education Act – for knowledge, choice [?–what choice?] and security on June 28, 2010.
Sweden Bans Home-schooling, Religious Instruction
The Kingdom of Sweden took a dramatic turn toward totalitarianism with the adoption of a sweeping new education reform package that essentially prohibits home schooling and forces all schools to teach the same government curriculum.
The draconian 1,500-page law deceptively referred to by the Swedish government as The new Education Act – for knowledge, choice and security was approved by Parliament last week amidst strong criticism and opposition. When it goes into effect next year, the entire educational system will be transformed, and alternative education abolished.
So-called independent schools, already financed and largely controlled by government, will now have to submit to the same regulatory framework as regular government schools. They will also be required to follow state-issued syllabi and curricula.
[Religious schools] cant make any children to pray or confess to the God, but they will still be allowed [to exist], Education Ministry press secretary Anna Neuman told The New American in a telephone interview. Essentially, there will no longer be any difference between private schools and government schools, she explained. And there will be no other option.
In addition to abolishing any remaining distinctions among schools, the new education act also prohibits home schooling for religious or philosophical reasons. Home education can be allowed only in exceptional circumstances like extreme bullying, Neuman explained. Lawyers have said the new condition basically means never.
Regulation of home schooling was already impossibly strict in Sweden, where, as reported recently by The New American, social service workers took a seven-year-old boy from his parents because he was being educated at home even when it was technically legal. But under the new rules, home education will be all but done away with.
Its a fear that [home schooling] doesnt work appropriate[ly], press secretary Neuman explained, though she admitted there was no report or evidence to back up the fear.
But Swedish home schoolers (and indeed, home schoolers around the world) disagree with the notion that home schooling doesnt work, and they have fought a valiant battle against the new ban. [The Swedish Association of Home Education] ROHUS has vigorously, with its limited resources, worked to stop this new law since it was suggested, ROHUS President Jonas Himmelstrand told The New American in an e-mail.
The group wrote a 228-page report for the Ministry of Education, lobbied members of Parliament, worked with the media, and tried unsuccessfully to meet with the Education Minister. In the last week before the vote I, as the President of ROHUS, wrote one e-mail a day, each with a new argument, to all 349 members of parliament, Himmelstrand explained. Unfortunately, the bill passed anyway.
Basically, it seems that the 50-100 Swedish homeschooling families are too few to matter politically human rights notwithstanding, he said, noting that the group had tried to educate officials on the benefits of home education using solid evidence.
But the battle is not over. For one, there is a Parliamentary election coming up in September. Even though the new law is not expected to be changed much, there is hope that the draconian restriction on home schooling could be loosened if enough pressure is applied. But even if the prohibition remains in place, the fight will go on.
The Swedish political authorities have deeply underestimated the convictions of Swedish homeschoolers, Himmelstrand said. Most will not accept the new law. They will respond with civil disobedience, or political exile.”
When asked about the thought of Swedish home-schooling families fleeing from government persecution (like German home schoolers granted asylum as refugees in the United States), Education Ministry spokesperson Neuman dismissed the idea. Right now there are only about 200 children that have home schooling, so it doesnt concern a lot of families, she said.
But for the families involved, its a big deal. They plan to take the issue all the way to the Swedish Supreme Court and even the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. And there is still hope.
The situation may be brighter than it looks, as this year long struggle has shown that there is a small, but strong and intelligent, opposition to restricting home schooling in Sweden, and that this opposition has many international friends, said Himmelstrand.
The international friends are already getting involved, too. Were consulting with various organizations to determine how to move forward, explained Mike Donnelly, the director for international relations and a staff attorney with the U.S.-based Home School Legal Defense Association. Of course were disappointed that the Swedish Parliament would do this but well be supporting the home schoolers however we can, he told The New American in a telephone interview.
In an analysis of the new law on ROHUS website, an even greater matter is also raised that supporters hope could become a catalyst for serious change in Sweden. The new school law has brought into the open a much bigger issue than the question of home schooling. 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, Himmelstrand explained in the piece.
Human rights do not have strong support in Sweden, he added. 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 home schooling 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.
The law has been fiercely criticized in Sweden far beyond the small community of home schoolers. Even the Swedish Supreme Courts advisory council, which examines proposed laws, attacked the new education act with 77 pages of devastating criticism, saying the exceptional circumstances requirement for home schooling was too vague, among other problems.
Media commentators also blasted the new law on several fronts. The new Education Act poses a threat to educational diversity, wrote Jim Whiteford on a Swedish political news website in an article entitled New school law a step backward. The state will exert more and more power over the pupil, and an outdated view of knowledge learning is increasingly prioritized and systematic…. We stand in dark times.
Whiteford said the law reduces both the students and their parents’ choice, increasing state control, adding that he hoped voters would question the welfare state at the next election. When looking at Sweden’s constitutional laws for the defense of individual rights against state power eager pursuit, there is nothing at all, he said. Once upon a time someone said that the Swedish Constitution is to protect the state rather than to ensure its citizens’ rights. And that seems to be an accurate description, to the extent that it can even be considered a “constitution” in the true sense.
Even a member of the political party sponsoring the new education act refused to support it because of the restrictions on home schooling and fears that it could be a prelude to mandatory day-care and pre-school. The opposition parties in Parliament voted against the law for several reasons. Among them: It was rushed, and the Supreme Courts advisory council criticism was not properly taken into account.
Other changes in the new law include tougher standards for becoming a teacher, and the idea that government day-care (for children as young as one year old) should be considered school. The act will also give the Swedish Schools Inspectorate the authority to shut down educational institutions that do not bow down to the governments rules.
Regimes that have banned home schooling in the past include the National Socialists (Nazis) in Germany, since Hitler feared it could lead to parallel societies, and the Soviet communist dictatorship, where government was the sole arbiter of what children would learn.
Most Western nations still allow home schooling, including other Scandinavian countries. It is to be hoped that the Swedish government will reconsider violating such a fundamental human right, lest home schoolers be forced to flee their home country in search of educational freedom.
Well, you might say, that is Sweden; this is the United States and that could never happen here. Well, think again. In another item fromJune 24, 2010, that is not really related to the ones above but in another sense is related, HSLDA’s Director of Federal Relations William A. Estrada and Congressional Action Program Director Melanie Palazzo report about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s belief in using International Law. If we have more justices and judges like Kagan, they could well start looking to places like Sweden and Germany in rulings that relate to homeschooling. Scary thought, isn’t it?
Will Elena Kagan use International Law as Supreme Court Justice?
This past April, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement. Stevens was appointed by President Ford in 1975. President Obama has since nominated Elena Kagan, current Solicitor General, to replace Stevens on the bench.
It is expected that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings on Elena Kagan sometime the week of June 28. HSLDA is concerned by some of Kagans past writings regarding international law, and its use by U.S. judges.
When Kagan was the dean of Harvard Law School, one of her chief accomplishments was requiring students to take classes in international law during their first year of law school. The reasoning behind this change was revealed in a memo to the Harvard Law School faculty written in 2006 by Dean Kagan and other professors:
Coursework in this area (International/comparative law) should become part of the first year program because, from the start, students should learn to locate what they are learning about public and private law in the United States within the context of a larger universeglobal networks of economic regulation and private ordering, public systems created through multilateral relations among states, and different and widely varying legal cultures and systems. Specifically, we recommend the development of three foundation courses, each of which would satisfy the requirement, and each of which represents a door into the global sphere that students will use as context for U.S. law.
When Harvard Law School added international law as a required course, U.S. Constitutional Law became an elective class. This moveand the quote aboveseems to demonstrate that Kagan believes courts should look to international law and the laws and precedents of other countries as the lens to use in examining our own Constitution and founding legal documents.
HSLDA believes that this philosophy will come in direct conflict with a Supreme Court justices role. Judges should not look to international law and the decisions of foreign nations in order to interpret the U.S. Constitution and apply it to disputes today.
As the Senate begins Kagans confirmation hearings, senators need to ask about her views on this important issue. Senator Chuck Grassley (IA) recently explained, Its our duty to ensure that the SCOTUS [Supreme Court of the United States] candidate understands the proper role of the Supreme Court in our system of government and will be true to the Constitution and the laws as written.
How would use of international law hurt homeschoolers?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) are two United Nations treaties that have been signed by the United States, but have not been ratified by the Senate. These are dangerous treaties because they would severely restrict parental rights and homeschooling. If the CRC were to be ratified by the Senate, the government would have the ability to override every decision made by parents by asserting the parents were not acting in the best interest of the child. The United States is one of the few countries in the world that have not ratified these treaties.
Although the U.S. Senate has not ratified these treaties, we are very concerned that U.S. Supreme Court justices may attempt to incorporate these treaties into their decisions as customary international law. It would be perilous to parental rights to have a justice on the court who values foreign treaties above the U.S. Constitution because whenever a justice uses an unratified treaty in a Supreme Court decision, the treaty becomes precedenta precedent lower courts can use.
We have strong concerns that based on Kagans past writings and work, she believes that judges should use international law and treaties in their decisions. If you share these concerns, we encourage you to call your two U.S. senators and ask them to question Kagan during her confirmation hearings about the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and what role she believes international law should play in supreme court decisions.