The Swedish government is currently considering a law that would require the country’s 71 private religious schools either to close their doors or to undergo dramatic secularization—even though religious instruction in such schools is already subject to tight legal restrictions. Seeing the proposed law as a response to growing fears over the impact of Muslim immigration, Annika Hernroth-Rothstein argues that it functions as a way to avoid more difficult conversations:
The proposed new law is superfluous. Plenty of legislation to protect Swedish children from religious indoctrination already exists. . . . [Even under existing law], there is in fact no religious education in Swedish schools—it is legal only outside the state-mandated curriculum—and so there is no religious education to outlaw. What the state would now outlaw, however, should the proposed legislation pass, is the opportunity for Christian, Muslim, and Jewish children to feel part of a group they can identify with, to learn about their religious and cultural heritage, and to partake of a value system that isn’t built on a belief in the almighty state, blessed be its name.
The proposed legislation is based on fear, ignorance, and an astounding lack of national identity. As we all know, it is much easier to outlaw liberty—this has always been Sweden’s default choice—than to struggle with the questions it raises and the perils it poses. The real reason that the [reigning] Social Democrats are proposing their new law and that most other major political parties are supporting it is that they dare not speak the name of what they really fear. . . . The reaction against religious schools stems from a general unease not about having Swedish culture taken [away], or even about abandoning it or giving it away, but rather about not knowing what it was to begin with. . . .
Along with most of postwar Europe, Sweden deems patriotism, national identity, and religion obsolete, scoffing at all three and embracing a new ideology based on a secular striving for liberal consensus. [But] it has become painfully clear to us over the past few years that those values and ideas are still vital, no matter how emphatically we may deny and denounce them.
If there were such a thing as Swedish values and if they were clearly defined for any immigrant, regardless of religion, we could have a society of Swedish Jews, Swedish Muslims, and Swedish Christians living side by side, as strangers and neighbors, in true liberal fashion. If we dared have a social contract whereby we agreed to obey Swedish law without exception, we could release ourselves from the weight of the state and enjoy the freedom that Sweden is famous for but never really was able to deliver.
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