Swedish family fined $15,700 for home-schooling heads to European court

Alliance Defending Freedom, HSLDA ask European Court of Human Rights to hear case
Monday, April 22, 2013

Attorney sound bite:  Roger Kiska

STRASBOURG, France — Alliance Defending Freedom and the Home School Legal Defense Association have asked the European Court of Human Rights to hear the case of a Swedish family heavily fined for home-schooling their daughter. Although the 13-year-old girl flourished in her home-schooling environment, local Swedish authorities fined her family the equivalent of more than $28,000. Sweden’s courts upheld the fine but lowered it to just over $15,700--a fine still so high that the family had to flee to Finland.

A law passed in 2010 by Sweden’s parliament makes criminal charges possible against parents who home-school unless they have “exceptional circumstances.” One of Jonas and Tamara Himmelstrand’s daughters had such circumstances according to her family and her psychologist, who diagnosed her with autism-spectrum disorder, but when the Himmelstrands applied for an exception even before the new law took effect in July 2011, authorities denied their application and fined them anyway.

“Parents should have the freedom and authority to make decisions regarding their children’s education without government interference,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska. “Punishing this family with exorbitant fines for doing what they and the girl’s psychologist both agreed was best for her is reprehensible. The Swedish law violates the European Convention of Human Rights, to which Sweden is obligated. Furthermore, that law shouldn’t even apply since Sweden passed it after the Himmelstrands filed their home-schooling application.”

“Sweden has a history of being highly oppressive toward anyone who won’t put their children under the control of government educators,” said HSLDA Director of International Relations Mike Donnelly, one of more than 2,200 allied attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom. “We hope the European Court of Human Rights will reverse these completely unjustifiable fines.”

The fines began accruing after the family applied for a home-schooling exception for the 2010-11 school year under the schooling law that preceded the newer law. The family has been fighting in court for their right to home-school for years and continues to do so from their current home in Finland.

The application to the European Court of Human Rights in Himmelstrand v. Sweden explains that the girl’s diagnosis permits her to excel in education if she is provided with a calm environment accompanied by strong, positive relationships with caregivers.

“This is virtually impossible to provide in a typical school environment and much more possible in the home environment,” the application states. “Testimony demonstrated that [she] is flourishing in her homeschooling and general development…. In addition to school subjects, she plays theater and sings solo in a church theater group and attends modern dance class twice a week. Overall, [her] education, which has been provided primarily by her parents in spite of the arbitrary opposition from authorities, has served her well and should continue.”

Alliance Defending Freedom and HSLDA are involved in another Swedish case involving a boy whom government officials abducted from his parents in part because he was being home-schooled. The boy, Domenic Johansson, has been separated from his parents for nearly four years.
  • Pronunciation guide: Kiska (KISH’-kuh), Donnelly (DAHN’-uh-lee)

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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