Religious Freedom In Sweden Under Threat
School Authorities Challenge Religious Education
Online school yearly reunion. Photo from COL. Front Photo: Haga Nygata, pedestrian street of city district Haga, Gothenburg, Sweden. Photographer: Erik of Gothenburg, EVL.
by S. Fridman – Gothenburg, Sweden
January 31, 2012
(Lubavitch.com) On January 26, Rabbi Alexander and Leah Namdar, Chabad representatives to Sweden, were served at their home with a notice by Gothenburg’s school authorities: Four of their children presently studying at an international online school must be delivered to a Swedish school by February 1. Failure to do so may result in a fine of 16000 crown—the equivalent of $2400 per week.
The notice came following a change in Sweden’s law January 1st that tightened restrictions on homeschooling, permitting it only in “extraordinary” circumstances. Religious reasons were explicitly excluded as a valid reason.
• Gothenburg’s school authorities are challenging a Jewish family’s right to a religious education
• School authorities threaten Chabad couple with hefty fines if children are not delivered to Swedish school
• Children are enrolled in established international online school, and participate in rigorous academic curriculum
• Children’s parents must fight in court for the right to a Jewish education.
According to Richard Backenroth, the attorney representing the Namdars in their court battle against Gothenburg’s school authorities, the case will be a critical test of Sweden’s record on religious freedom. European law protects the religious freedom of its citizens, but with this action, Sweden is effectively denying the Namdars this right.
“This is a stain on the reputation of a country that takes pride in equality as a fundamental value,” says Rabbi Namdar who, like his wife, regards education as their “highest priority.”
Backenroth, who is appealing the notice and its “exorbitant fine” which came while the Namdars’ case is still pending, told lubavitch.com that “Sweden’s schools cannot possibly accommodate the needs of the Namdar children with respect to their religious requirements.”
Moreover, the law, which challenges the right of parents to home school their children, should not be applied to the Namdar children, he insists, because they are in fact, being educated “in a normal online school along with 500 international students,” as well as through private tutoring, yet Gothenburg school authorities are choosing to ignore this.
Guy Linderman, a Jewish citizen of Sweden who was active in politics supported the law when it was drafted years ago, but objects to its enforcement in the case of the Namdars. The law was originally motivated by concern for Sweden’s immigrant children, he explains, “many of who were denied an education, and had grown up illiterate, incapable of signing their names.”
But the Namdar children whom he has come to know well, have benefited from high educational standards. “They are more educated than their Swedish peers,” he said, pointing out that all of them pursue careers in education.
Furthermore, as the only Orthodox Jews in the city, forcing them to go to a Swedish school where they would stand out, expose them to real danger. Swedish schools are notorious for their bullying problems, and the children would become a certain target for anti-Semitic harassment.
Leah Namdar sees this as one more in a pattern of challenges that she and her husband have been faced with in the course of the last 21 years since they have made their home in Sweden. Six of their 11 children now live and study abroad at Jewish high schools, teaching seminaries and rabbinical schools.
“We gave them an education that allowed them to integrate into the schools they have gone on to study at,” Leah said. That is the same educational route the rest of her children are expected to pursue.
“They need this education through the international online school in order to continue their studies abroad,” she said.
At their individual computers from 8:00 each morning to 1:15, five days a week, the children must master a full schedule of Judaic studies including proficiency in Hebrew. The afternoon is dedicated to English, Swedish, mathematics, geography, science, music, art, and gymnastics. All the children speak English, Swedish, and Yiddish fluently. They can read Hebrew by age 4 or 5, like other Orthodox Jewish children.
Their extra-curricular activities include community work with regular visits to the elderly, helping out with the Sunday Hebrew school classes for other Jewish children taught by their parents, and other educational activities. The online school also ensures the children benefit from a healthy social experience.
“Hanging in the balance then, really, is nothing less than the religious freedom of Sweden’s citizens.”
From the Smiths:
Updated 30 January 2012: Life for Those Left Behind (Craig Smith’s Health) page 6 click here
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