(UPDATE) The threat against the existence of faith-based schools in Sweden continues: The UPR and the Parliament Report

As we said in a previous article in Sweden a debate on educational pluralism has taken place in the Parliament since the last elections with to ban faith-based schools. Although the debate still is ongoing certain constraints have already been approved.

This situation is shocking in a state that traditionally last years has shown an openness towards religious pluralism and educational pluralism. The international community has been surprised by this debate and therefore there have been already some reactions. Two weeks ago there was the UPR of Sweden. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. OIDEL, together with other NGOs, submitted a document pointing to the threats of the potential new legislation against human rights. In this regard, some countries raised the question of the convenience of these legislative initiatives and some recommendations were made. The most critical recommendations against the situation of Sweden were made by the Solomon Islands which pointed:

Review the proposed legislative ban on faith-based private schools” and “Recognize that the State has no legitimate authority under international law to mandatorily prescribe conventional education for all children, that individuals have the right to seek alternative forms of education, and that the prohibition and criminalisation of home education is a violation of international human rights law”.[1]

Internally, in Sweden on the 8th of January, there was the presentation of the official report produced by a Commission appointed by that was Parliament on the consequences of the new legislation on confessional schools. We can withdraw some conclusions.

One first and brief conclusion is that the report acknowledges that in any of the compared countries (Norway, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany) there is any legislation that does not allow faith schools.

The second important conclusion is that this initiative is frontally contrary to the Human Rights Obligations of Sweden. The report recalls that Sweden has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRCh) which includes the child’s right to comprehensive education as well as the right to religious and cultural identity.

The document also points that according to the European Convention of Human Rights the right to exercise their religion applies also to non-governmental schools. It remarks that “inter alia under the EU law, there is a right to establish and operate private schools. (…) it is not possible to prohibit certain natural or legal persons from being considered for approval as managers of independent preschools or schools (…). If (…) persons with a religious basis were denied consideration for approval as managers of (…) schools (…), this might run the risk of constituting discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights”. The document points how the new legislative proposals can be against obligations accepted by Sweden on the field of human rights concretely on freedom of religion and free right of establishment.

The Commission points that a way to ensure that faith-based schools are compatible with the Swedish society is by introducing a democratic condition to approve the existence of a school. The Commission says that an individual shall not be granted approval as a manager for an activity concerning education if there is a particular reason to believe that this person or persons are engaged in violence or improperly violate human rights, if they discriminate, if they engage in abusive treatment of children, if they undermine the principle of the best interest of the child or if they undermine the democratic system of government.  [2]

The main reaction after the presentation of the report is that the different legislative initiatives in this regard will not make it through the European Court. Nevertheless, the Minister of Education has said that still, this report gives a good foundation for a law to stop new religious schools.

Ignasi Grau

[1] Human Rights Council – Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review Thirty-fifth session (20–31 January 2020) Draft report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review : Sweden, A/HRC/WG.6/35/L.9

[2] Statens Offentliga Utredningar (2019) Nya regler för skolor med konfessionell inriktning – Betänkande av Utredningen om konfessionella inslag i skolväsendet. Available at : https://www.regeringen.se/48d7d1/contentassets/29992645492d4d608d004e9fc02968f5/nya-regler-for-skolor-med-konfessionell-inriktning-sou-201964?noaccount=true

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Alarms against freedom of education in Sweden:

After the elections in September 2018, there were difficulties to form a new government. Finally, in January, a new government was formed, the Social Democrats and the Green Party, along with the Liberal and Center Parties, came together to form a minority government. The agreement they created is called the “January Agreement”, which includes a proposition to no longer allow new religious schools in Sweden. It has gone so far as Social Democratic ministers, including the current Minister of Education has stated that they are going to ban all religious schools, including pre-existing schools.

The call for a ban on religious schools is based on a claim that they carry out religious oppression and are bad for the integration of the students, but this claim has no current factual basis. A commissioner is currently examining “confessional elements in the educational system”.  The goal of this report is to “propose a definition of ‘confessional elements’, examine international conventions related to confessional elements in education, and analyze the advantages and disadvantages of confessional elements to determine whether there is a need for specific requirements for owners of religious schools”. The report is due to the government by May 31, but government officials seem to have already made up their minds on banning religious schools before the report has been reviewed and without any factual reasoning. Swedish citizens are calling for their government to pause and wait for the commissioner’s report before making a final decision.

This situation is critical; if this finally happens it can bring a country that has been respectful with religious minorities and freedom of education to ban some of the fundamental freedoms. We will keep you informed.


Natalia Baigorri