Citing European human rights law, a Laestadian family 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 physical education (PE).
Also Conservative Laestadian families in Finland have opted to keep children out of school’s dance and theatre education (often also physical education , i.e. gymnastic exercises with music). The National Board of Education had assigned exemption to attend theatre visits and dance lessons, according the require of the Central Committee of Conservative Laestadian Congregations (Suomen rauhanyhdistysten keskusyhdistys ry., SRK).
On the other side, all children deserve the opportunity to learn and ”freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice” (Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, United Nations).
According to the Declaration of The Rights of The Child, adopted by United Nations (1959):
The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.
Every child has the right to learn, to be educated meaningfully, respectfully, and equally in a way that addresses his or her needs, and to be included within the school environment without compromising his or her physical, emotional, social, or educational well being.
The question is, how obligatory is the official, mandatory curriculum should be considered and what kind of problems the deviation causes for the individual child in the future. Also, there should be consider the question, whether children have right to have unrestricted education, right to learn free and according the curriculum designed by education specialists and teachers. Knowledge on music, theatre and dance are indisputably part of our common human culture and competences.
Thus, do fundamentalist parents have right to disallow their youth to learn this knowledge as a part of general human treasure? Here clash the parents’ right to determine the child’s learning and every child’s right to learn, know and get practical training in dance. The opportunity of learning dance (and theatre and music) was taken off them, in a phase when they were not able to consider the importance of this issue.
It happens often that people later as adult often consider regrettable that they had lost the right and opportunity to learn dance (and theatre or movies) during the school years.
Laestadians banned tv-presentations at school
This case in sweden can be compared to the decision by the Finnish National Board of Education did in 1979. The Central Committee of Conservative Laestadian Congregations (SRK ry.) asked Finnish authorities for Laestadian parents’ children exempted from lessons, where there was used material via the television, showing tv-programmes, movies or video presentations. SRK required that teachers had to arrange for these children separate activities during the period of watching television or video presentation.
The Finnish authorities sent a letter to all schools where the teachers were instructed to act like fundamentalists parents demanded.
However, after a few years, 1983, SRK (Voitto Savela) sent a letter to all the local associations of peace in which it withdrew the ban on school television. Nonetheless, this information was forgotting in many local Laestadian communities (associations of peace), because the local leaders never informed this issue public for the believers
Many school children have often reminisced afterwards TV ban distressing and burdening; especially it that they had to stand out, to work separated, being different and odd in the class.
Swedish sisters skip ”sinful” dance class
Siblings Johanna, Veronica and Emilia in Pajala, northern Sweden, belong to the Laestadianism faith, a strict faithbranch 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.
Also contraception, competitive sports and membership in a sport association, make up, wearing earrings, popular music, movies, theater, opera, concerts, having TV set at home, etc. are told to be sin, by Laestadian preachers. 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. The Laestadian movement, devided in 19 separately branches, is estimated to have over 200,000 followers worldwide, has strong roots in the Nordic countries. Devoted followers don’t watch television, shy away from make-up and stay clear of sports.
Children of the fundamentalistic family are not required to follow the official study plan
The most important thing in this case is that Swedish authorities decided that children of the fundamentalistic family are not required to follow the official study plan at school. The most important feature of this case is that the authorities decided that the children of the strickly fundamentalistic family can break away from the official curriculum of family obligation.
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.
We will meet more often situations where two or more faith systems, religions, and the secular societal order will meet. this cases challenge often the essential question of the human rights. This will lead to intercourse of secular and religious emphasizes of human rights.
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– Xsa. –
Source: Patrick Reilly: Swedish sisters skip ’sinful’ dance class. The Local: Swedish News in English 10.7.2013.
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Convention on the Rights of the Child. United Nations.
Declaration of The Rights of The Child. United Nations.
Entinen vanhoillislestadiolainen nainen: Koulun teatteriesitykset. Blogi ”Lähdin. Saanko elää omaa elämääni?” 28.8.2012.
Free: Opting Out. Learning to Live Free -blog. – See also comments.
Paula Huhtala: Saako vanhoillislestadiolainen tanssia? Espoon seurakuntasanomat ESSE 12.2.2015.
Cecilia Jaensson Wallander: Laestadiansk flicka slipper dansa. Kyrkans Tidning 26.7.2013.
Voitto Savela: Koulun erityistilanteissa. Kirje rauhanyhdistyksille 1983.
Olli Seppälä: Oikeus päätti: Lestadiolaistytön ei tarvitse tanssia koulussa. Kotimaa24 31.7.2013.
Ed Suominen : An Examination of the Pearl
Synnit. – The List of the Sins of the Conservative Laestadians. In Finnish.
Xsa & Halla: I was brainwashed into raging Laestadian beliefs
Vanhoillislestadiolaisuus, amishit, hutteriitit ja mennoniitit (Compare Laestadian beliefs with the ones of Hutterites, Amish and Mennonites. In Finnish only.)