Freedom of religion wasn’t formally codified in Sweden until 1952, but for decades Swedish law has forbidden religious teachings in schools. Children are required to attend a government-approved school, and one of the criteria for approval is no religion. This of course refers to the teaching of religion, not teaching about religion: comparative religion studies replaced the subject “Christianity” on the syllabi of Swedish primary schools and high schools in 1969 and still remains. In recent years, however, privately run schools have proliferated in Sweden, many of them backed by religious organisations of various stripes. Thus a new initiative from the multi-party conservative Reinfeldt government to explicitly forbid religious school teaching, e.g. creationism and intelligent design in biology class. They will double the number of inspections of schools regardless of who runs them, ban anonymous donations to schools and make it easier to close schools that break the rules. Well done, say I.
Thinking back on my own school days, I remember a time when things were different. Private schools were almost unknown and mainly associated with the upper class. In my publically-run school in the late 70s, a lukewarm Christianity still lingered in the form av psalm-singing in the mornings and church visits at Christmas. But none of our teachers ever seemed religious. Nobody’s parents were religious. My high-school religion teacher was easy-going and neutral about the various religions we discussed, and only after graduation did I learn that she was actually a member of Evangeliska Fosterlandsstiftelsen, an old missionary outfit inside the Swedish Lutheran church. Sweden was different back then, still incongruously sporting a State Church, with few evangelicals and Moslems making the news.
Says Minister for Education Jan Björklund, “Pupils must be protected from all forms of fundamentalism”. Indeed.