Read More Atheist Republic Sweden’s government has been criticized for enacting a policy that would seek to halt the establishment of denominational schools in the country, saying the move selectively targets Muslim schools.
Earlier in 2022, Lena Axelsson Kihlblom, the former Education Minister, said in a press conference that the previous government, under then-Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of the Social Democratic Party, passed a bill aiming for “banning the establishment of so-called independent religious schools” in the Nordic country.
The proposed bill sought to prevent religious schools from expanding by either accepting new students or opening new branches from 2024 onwards. The proposal came after the Swedish government detected a series of issues concerning schools with declared or unofficial Christian or Muslim focus.
Römosseskolan, an Islam-oriented school, was accused of using large sums of money for trips to Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. The same school was accused in July 2020 of holding gender-segregated classes for 22 years, even though the Swedish government does not permit gender segregation in schools, even for religious purposes.
While the bill initially did not push through in Sweden’s parliament (Riksdag) because of a lack of majority, some in the Social Democratic Party supported banning schools with religious orientation.
“It is time to ban independent religious schools. The school should not be a place for religious schooling and encourage religious segregation. Neither Christian sects, imams, nor shareholders should govern the school,” said Lisa Nåbo, the Social Democrats youth union chairman on the Swedish news site VK.
Anadolu Agency reported that around 20 schools in the country with an Islamic orientation were closed down, with only three remaining, two of which have filed a lawsuit against the Swedish government. Critics say that the bill initially intended to close all religious schools and ended up targeting only Islamic schools. The Islamic Schools Association also claimed that the policy was motivated mainly by politics and hate against Muslims.
However, the Swedish authorities rejected these claims and insisted they have the right to oversee activities from private schools.
“The reason why some of the schools with an Islamic profile have been closed has nothing to do with the orientation of the independent schools. It has to do with the fact that the owner hasn’t followed Swedish legislation,” Agnes Gidlund, Swedish Schools Inspectorate press secretary, told the Middle East Eye in a statement.
“The Swedish Schools Inspectorate can make decisions that mean that an independent school must close when there are deficiencies that those responsible do not remedy.” She added.
Although Muslims criticized the policy, Christians also previously expressed their concerns regarding the bill earlier proposed by the Social Democratic government. Fredrik Sidenvall, a Swedish priest and the vice chairman of the Christian Independent Schools Council, described the tone of the proposal by Kihlblom as approaching “incitement against ethnic groups” and “institutionalized bullying.”
Religious schools are, as described by The Local, unusual and not run by the state. However, Islamic schools spread in the Nordic country in the 1990s when the Swedish government provided funding for private schools.