The Social Democratic Party in Sweden announced a plan ostensibly to combat segregation by shutting down all religious schools, to the chagrin of Catholic educators.
Catholic educators denounced the plan and called it an overt “aggressive assault” on Sweden’s Catholic community and a further breach of religious rights in the country, according to Crux Now. The Social Democratic Party (SDP), which leads a minority government and has formed a coalition with the Green Party, pledged to make the banning of religious schools a priority if they are re-elected.
“In our schools, teachers and principals should make the decisions, not priests or imams,” Minister for Upper Secondary School and Adult Education and Training Anna Ekstrom said, according to Crux.
Paddy Maguire, principal of Notre Dame Catholic School in Gothenburg, said that Ekstrom’s argument is completely unnecessary since all school administrations, religious or not, must comply with Swedish laws concerning education.
“We have to (abide by) Swedish law, they don’t understand that. They just think we’re run by priests and imams, as they put it,” Maguire told Catholic News Agency (CNA).
Maguire also openly denounced the party’s plan as an attack on Catholics and asserted that their real goal was to combat problems in Islamic schools, “but they are too cowardly to say so. ”
Maguire argued that the segregation which the SDP pledges to fight is happening only in Islamic schools, built as a result of an influx of immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, which segregate students according to gender. Kristina Hellner, communications officer for the Diocese of Stockholm, told CNA that she shared that assessment.
“The absolute majority of the religious schools in Sweden show excellent results but a small number of them (and these are Islamic schools) have had different kinds of problems. Instead of doing something about these specific schools, certain politicians would like to solve it by closing all religious schools,” Hellner said.
The bill is unlikely to pass, in Hellner’s estimation, since the SDP has lost a lot of political support to the Moderate Party and the balance of power in Sweden has shifted to favor right-wing parties. Still, Christian groups in Sweden are banding together with the help of Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm to oppose the plan through the Christian Council and to bring the fight all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. Meanwhile, the SDP, the Left Party, and certain members of the Liberal Party have expressed support for the plan. The Green Party, despite their coalition with the SDP, and the Centre Party remain neutral on the issue.
Sweden has 71 religious schools, 59 of which are Christian, 11 are Muslim, and one is Jewish.