Advancing Religious Liberty
5/3/13 at 02:26 PM 0 Comments

Sweden Cases Illumine Potential Legal Threat to Your Family

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Author: Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO, and General Counsel Alan Sears

One vital benefit of our ministry’s involvement in helping defend religious freedom overseas is the crucial perspective it gives us for defending your legal rights here in America. From the vantage points of courtrooms in Latin America, Asia, and particularly Europe, we can see how easily – and quickly – the challenges our Christian brothers and sisters are being confronted with there will come to further endanger the freedom of our own children and grandchildren here.

To understand how important it is that we stop these challenges from reaching our own country, look no farther than Sweden, where two cases just last week reminded us how determined that government is to constrain Christian families’ religious freedom.

In 2010, Sweden’s parliament passed a law making parents criminally liable should they choose to home-school their children under anything other than “exceptional circumstances.” Jonas and Tamara Himmelstrand believed those circumstances applied to their daughter. A psychologist had diagnosed the girl with autism-spectrum disorder, and told them she would do better in a nurturing home environment.

The Himmelstrands applied for an exemption, based on that recommendation and the fact that their girl was clearly thriving in the home school setting. Swedish authorities not only denied their request, but fined them heavily for failing to comply with the law. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have joined with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) to represent the family in court, and judges have now lowered the fine some – but still refuse to dismiss it entirely, or allow the Himmelstrands to continue home-schooling. Unable to pay such an exorbitant amount, the family has now fled to Finland. Meanwhile, our attorneys and the HSLDA have appealed the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

“Punishing this family with exorbitant fines for doing what they and the girl’s psychologist both agreed was best for her is reprehensible,” says Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska. “Parents should have the freedom and authority to make decisions regarding their children’s education without government interference.” Besides which, he says, “The Swedish law violates the European Convention of Human Rights, to which Sweden is obligated.”

Sad as the Himmelstrands’ predicament is, Christer and Annie Johansson’s is even more tragic. Four years ago, their seven-year-old son was taken from them by force as they sat on an airplane, about to return from furlough to their mission field in Annie’s native India. While in Sweden, they had homeschooled their son – which at that time was not yet illegal. Nevertheless, without a warrant and without even charging the Johanssons with a crime, officials took their boy away.

Social services authorities placed the boy, Dominic, in foster care and a government school in 2009, allowing his parents to visit him first rarely – then not at all. Our attorneys and the HSLDA have been advising the family (represented by Ruby Harrold-Claesson of the Nordic Committee on Human Rights); 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,” says Kiska. “This is a tragedy and injustice of epic proportions, and we are asking Sweden’s highest court to right this egregious wrong.”

Alliance Defending Freedom and HSLDA are encouraging people to join an HSLDA-sponsored letter-writing campaign asking the court to accept the case and return Dominic to his parents. Please prayerfully consider joining that campaign, and pray for our global attorneys and allies as we work to defend religious freedom in Sweden and other nations … before we have to fight those same legal fights here at home.

This post originally appeared here.

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