STATEMENT FROM THE NORDIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE MEETING IN HILDESHEIM, GERMANY
The Nordic Bishops’ Conference wishes to express its concern for the situation in Sweden regarding the attitude to religion and religious freedom, but also for the lack of respect for international conventions on human rights.
The background for the concern is the two legislative proposals that were presented in the spring of 2022, and especially the proposal to stop the establishment of religious independent schools and preschools.
Today, 1% of Sweden’s students attend religious independent schools. The absolute majority of these schools work perfectly and are a resource that contributes positively to the opportunity for children and young people to exercise their religious freedom. These schools give children and young people access, knowledge and experience of religious faith and religious practices and thus contribute to their ability to meet people of faith in a multi-religious social context.
According to the European Convention, the state must respect the right of parents to ensure the education and teaching of their children in conformity with their religious and philosophical convictions. Also the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – which has been Swedish law since 2020 – states that children have the right to freedom of religion and spiritual development. The Swedish proposal to prohibit new establishment of religious independent schools is thus against both conventions.
In other European countries, religious independent schools are a natural part of society. In Denmark, 25% of students attend a religious free school and in the Netherlands the figure is 75%. In Sweden, however, religion seems to be perceived as a problem. We sense that, in addition to maintain a secular state, there is also an aim for a secular society where religion is something completely private.
We see the same suspicion towards religion and faith communities in the bill on new democratic conditions for state support to civil society and faith communities. If the proposal is implemented according to the current wording, it risks jeopardizing the position of faith communities in Swedish society in the long run.
Let us not forget that freedom of religion also means the right of all individuals to practice their religion freely.
Hildesheim September 5, 2022
+Czeslaw Kozon (president of the Nordic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop of Copenhagen)
+Anders Kardinal Arborelius (vice-president, Bishop of Stockholm)
+Erik Varden (Bishop Prelate of Trondheim)
+Berislav Grgic (Bishop Prelate of Tromsö)
+David Tencer (Bishop of Reykjavik)
Marco Pasinato (Administrator of Helsinki)