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October 25, 2010

Sweden Denies Due Process to Family, Disregards Legal System

Swedish officials have abridged the rights of yet another homeschool family. A local municipality is arguing that because they have previously denied the family’s right to homeschool, the family shouldn’t get to argue their case in court again this year.

This action ignores basic principles of fairness and due process that are well established in Western nations. This behavior asserts the power of the Swedish state in a way that is increasingly punitive toward those who deviate from the “norm.”

Authorities in the Partille municipality in southwestern Sweden have doggedly pursued the Robbins family ever since they submitted their application to homeschool for the 2009–2010 school year. Despite the fact that Jan and Kara Robbins (named changed to protect privacy) have successfully educated their son Michael at home for the past six years, last autumn the local authorities denied their application to homeschool. It appears that the municipality based this decision solely upon its prejudiced views of homeschooling as “inadequate” and even “harmful” to children. These views have been repeated in other judicial decisions in Sweden.

Municipal officials have completely ignored Michael’s exceptional academic and social performance, as well as the responsible manner in which the Robbins family have conducted their homeschool. For six years the family has submitted to annual inspections by municipal officials to ensure transparency, met with authorities, maintained detailed work plans and academic records, and agreed to periodic examinations.

Last year, the authorities demanded that Michael begin to attend school immediately. In addition, the Partille municipality fined each parent 10,000 Swedish crowns (equivalent to $1,500 in U.S. currency). Officials are seeking a court order to force the family to render payment since they declined to pay or send their son to the public school while the matter was in the hands of the court.

“Our Child is Going to School”

Kara Robbins contests the municipality’s use of fines to punish homeschoolers: “Fines are for people who act illegally, not for law-abiding citizens,” she said. “Our child is going to school. It would be different with parents who don’t take their child to any school. That is where they can use fines.”

Throughout this year, their case has progressed through the different levels of the Swedish court system as the family has continued to appeal the decision.

This August, the family again submitted their application to homeschool for the upcoming school year, in accordance with the Swedish school law. Again, the municipality flatly denied the application. However, this time, authorities sent a letter claiming their denial this year does not warrant a hearing in court.

Another court case would be “unnecessary,” authorities claim, and the issue should not be revisited since it was “dealt with” last year. This outrageous conclusion effectively means that the family is without traditional legal recourse for their situation. Not only have Swedish officials criminalized the Robbins family for their choice to educate their son at home, which is a natural right of parents, but authorities are now withholding the family’s legal rights as well.

HSLDA Staff Attorney and Director of International Affairs Mike Donnelly notes that the response of the Partille officials is troubling.

“On a Dangerous Path”

“The municipality’s denial of the Robbins’ due process rights is the most recent action by Swedish officials that reveals a blatant agenda to persecute homeschoolers as a specific social group,” said Donnelly. “These officials are attempting to take away basic due process rights like access to an impartial hearing for each denial of their rights. This practice of denying individuals their legal right to due process shows that Sweden is on a dangerous path heading towards tyranny.”

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. In another instance, Swedish authorities stomped on due process rights by removing previously appointed counsel in a separate high-profile case.

In the high-profile situation involving 8-year-old Domenic Johansson, a homeschooled boy taken into state custody over a year ago just as the family was on a plane moving from Sweden, attorney Ruby Harrold-Claesson was “banished” from representing Domenic’s parents. Donnelly protests that this action interfered with the Johanssons’ right to counsel, an integral part of due process.

Donnelly accuses the Swedish legal system of unfairness.

“By denying due process like this, Sweden has departed from a system of law that safeguards the rights of the individual,” he said. “Both of these cases, and many others like these, call into question the basic fairness of the Swedish legal process. Decisions such as these, regarding homeschoolers and others where the state overpowers the rights of individuals to squelch ‘dissent,’ are frightening and echo Germany’s treatment of homeschoolers.”

Swedish homeschoolers hope they are not seeing the effects of the new Swedish education law, which passed the Swedish parliament in June 2010. Jonas Himmelstrand, president of ROHUS, the Swedish Association of Home Education, comments, “We don’t want this procedure to become routine in homeschoolers’ interaction with the municipalities.”

Donnelly states that Swedish homeschoolers face increasingly trying circumstances.

“The persecuted need an advocate. That is precisely why help from fellow homeschoolers is crucial to the Swedish situation. HSLDA commits to support this small band of parents so that Sweden does not set harmful precedent, forcing families to homeschool underground or to flee their country.”

 Other Resources

HSLDA: “Sweden Denies Due Process to Family”

World Net Daily: “Judge Banishes Family’s Custody Lawyer”