Swedish homeschooler persecution challenged

Baptist Press
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Posted: May 08, 2013 4:52 PM

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP) -- Two cases of persecution of homeschoolers in Sweden are being highlighted by U.S. attorneys as examples of potential religious freedom threats that may arise in the United States.

Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom, noted that a key benefit of ADF's involvement in helping defend religious freedom overseas is "the crucial perspective it gives us" for defending legal rights in America."

Both Swedish cases are similar to a German homeschooling case that has received attention in the United States -- the Romeike family which sought asylum in 2008 after German officials levied hefty fines against them and threatened to take away their children. Their asylum case now is being considered by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The first Swedish case Sears mentioned in a May 3 advisory is that of Jonas and Tamara Himmelstrand, whose daughter was diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder and whose psychologist had advised that homeschooling was the best option for her development.

In 2010, Sweden, which along with Germany is chief among persecutors of homeschoolers, passed a law making parents criminally liable if they homeschool their children except in "exceptional circumstances."

The Himmelstrands filed for an exemption but the request was denied and they were fined for homeschooling their daughter. The family fled to Finland, unable to pay the major fines.

A second case involves Christer and Annie Johansson, whose 7-year-old son Dominic was taken from them in 2009 as they sat aboard an airplane bound for India. The family had been on furlough in Sweden and was returning to the mission field in India. While in Sweden, they had homeschooled their son.

Homeschooling was not yet illegal in Sweden at the time, but officials placed Dominic in foster care and a government school. His parents were allowed to see him rarely at first and then not at all.

As Sears reported, a lower court restored the parents' rights, but a higher one later reversed that decision. Now the case has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Sweden.

"Instead of protecting its citizens, Sweden's government has become a frightening threat," Roger Kiska, senior legal counsel for ADF, said. "This is a tragedy and injustice of epic proportions, and we are asking Sweden's highest court to right this egregious wrong."

ADF and the Home School Legal Defense Association have launched a letter-writing campaign asking the Supreme Court of Sweden to accept the Johansson case and return the boy to his parents.

"As the district court found, Annie and Christer Johansson are good parents," Mike Donnelly of HSLDA said. "It is unconscionable that the court of appeals -- or any court in a democratic country like Sweden -- could somehow think that it is in Dominic's best interest to remain separated from his parents."

Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp)

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