Siblings Johanna, Veronica and Emilia in Pajala, northern Sweden, belong to the Laestadianism faith, a branch of Lutheran Christianity that preaches strong conservative values. Dancing, in particular, is frowned upon and is considered to be a ‘sin’ by especially strict Laestadians.
The girls’ parents have claimed that their daughters should be exempt from the dance element that features in the state-wide school curriculum for physical education (PE). Attempts to get a free pass for their daughter Johanna were met with resistance from the school, who said they had to by law make sure pupils complete all elements in PE so they can get a passing grade.
The conservative family, however, launched an appeal with the administrative court of appeal (kammarrätt), stating that not only did Sweden have religious freedom, but the school’s refusal to allow their daughters’ a dance-free gym class went against Sweden’s “proportionality principle”, which attempts to strike a balance between cause and consequence. The appeal also quoted European human rights law extensively to sway the court.
Had the sisters simply boycotted the dance element, they would run the risk of not getting a passing grade from their PE teacher. The family, meanwhile, had said they would like the school to adapt its lessons to better suit the religious needs of their children.
Dance instruction is currently mandatory for students in upper secondary school (gynmasiet) in order for them to pass physical education class. Yet according to previous education legislation, schools should develop their teaching so that students can participate in class regardless of their religious beliefs.
The administrative court of appeal has now sided with the family, meaning that the three sisters can opt out of dancing without risking any educational backlash.
Laestadians, who are estimated to have over 200,000 followers worldwide, have strong roots in the Nordic countries. Devoted followers don’t watch television, shy away from make-up and stay clear of sports.