Sweden wants to curb the influence of religion in private religious schools in a move to prevent the spread of fundamentalism and creationism in science, government officials said on Monday.
The new rules being drafted by the centre-right government would ban religious elements being taught in subjects other than Religious Education lessons. Education Minister Jan Bjorklund told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter: “Students must be protected from every form of fundamentalism. A student shouldn’t be able to pass a natural science test by answering that God created the world. We don’t think that’s OK. Teaching in school must have a scientific basis.” The schools would also be required to report financial donations to the authorities, he said.
His comments came after a legal dispute involving efforts by the Exclusive Brethren to start a school in southern Sweden.
The Exclusive Brethren Christian Fellowship, which dismisses the theory of evolution, was granted permission by a county administrative court to start the school after it promised to follow the Swedish school plan and to welcome all students. It wasn’t clear how a cult with the word “exclusive” in its name could be open to non-cult members. The decision to permit the school was widely criticised. The group is regarded as isolationist, imposing heavy restrictions on its membership, including those on children at school.
There are 67 elementary schools and six high schools with a religious character in Sweden, mostly Christian. They are outside the public school system, but are governed by Sweden’s law on education. The government claims the law is not clear on how much religious influence is allowed in the curriculum. The new rules, which need parliamentary approval, would be introduced in 2009, Bjorklund’s spokeswoman Anna Neuman said.
The Council of Europe this month voted to urge European schools to strongly oppose teaching creationism and intelligent design in science classes, saying attacks on the theory of evolution were rooted in religious extremism.
It would also propose to parliament that it enable authorities to swiftly issue fines or, in especially serious cases, close schools that failed to adhere to the new rules.