Swedish sisters skip ‘sinful’ dance class

Citing European human rights law, a family of strict Lutheran faith in northern Sweden have managed to overturn a decision by their daughters' school, which had refused to allow the three girls to skip out on "sinful" dance class during PE.

Swedish sisters skip 'sinful' dance class

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.

Patrick Reilly

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‘Sweden should apologise to Tornedalian minority’: Truth commission releases report

The Swedish state should issue a public apology to the country's Tornedalian minority, urges a truth commission set up to investigate historic wrongdoings.

'Sweden should apologise to Tornedalian minority': Truth commission releases report

Stockholm’s policy of assimilation in the 19th and 20th centuries “harmed the minority and continues to hinder the defence of its language, culture and traditional livelihoods,” the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Tornedalians, Kvens and Lantalaiset said in an article published in Sweden’s main daily Dagens Nyheter.

“Amends must be made in order to move forward,” it said, adding that “acknowledging the historic wrongdoings” should be a first step.

The commission, which began work in June 2020, was to submit a final report to the government on Wednesday.

Tornedalen is a geographical area in northeastern Sweden and northwestern Finland. The Tornedalian, Kven and Lantalaiset minority groups are often grouped under the name Tornedalians, who number around 50,000 in Sweden.

The commission noted that from the late 1800s, Tornedalian children were prohibited from using their mother tongue, meänkieli, in school and forced to use Swedish, a ban that remained in place until the 1960s.

From the early 1900s, some 5,500 Tornedalian children were sent away to Lutheran Church boarding schools “in a nationalistic spirit”, where their language and traditional dress were prohibited.

Punishments, violence and fagging were frequent at the schools, and the Tornedalian children were stigmatised in the villages, the commission said.

“Their language and culture was made out to be something shameful … (and) their self-esteem and desire to pass on the language to the next generation was negatively affected.”

The minority has historically made a living from farming, hunting, fishing and reindeer herding, though their reindeer herding rights have been limited over the years due to complexities with the indigenous Sami people’s herding rights.

“The minority feels that they have been made invisible, that their rights over their traditional livelihoods have been taken away and they now have no power of influence,” the commission wrote.

It recommended that the meänkieli language be promoted in schools and public service broadcasting, and the state “should immediately begin the process of a public apology”.

The Scandinavian country also has a separate Truth Commission probing discriminatory policies toward the Sami people.

That report is due to be published in 2025.