School talks stall over religion

Sweden's Green Party has refused to back government proposals to cut out the religious aspect of independent religious schools in the country. The issue has stalled the negotiations over a new schooling law, which the government is due to put to the vote next Thursday.

The Left Party, the other political partner of the Social Democrats, has backed the plans but the Greens say they do not want to see a change to the rules.

“People should have the option of schools with a confessional standpoint as long as the teaching is impartial,” said the Green Party education spokesperson, Mikaela Valtersson.

Valtersson told Swedish Radio’s Ekot programme that such an option should be supported by public funding.

“We will not cooperate with any changes to or tightening of the rules,” she said.

According to the proposal, the teaching in independent religious schools would be entirely free of any religious angle. Morning prayers and other religious extra-curricular activities must be voluntary for the pupils.

If schools wish to build religious instruction into the curriculum they will not receive state funding, relying on school fees and other contributions instead.

Ekot pointed out that the government will need the support of the Greens to see the proposal passed by parliament. The opposition parties are firmly against the idea, arguing that it is discriminatory and will lead to religious and political extremism.

In response to the Greens’ opposition, Schools Minister Ibrahim Baylan cut short negotiations to discuss the matter with the government, a move which Prime Minister Göran Persson said was “natural”.

“I hope we can find a solution,” said Persson. “But it is an important political question and we want to be clear on a couple of points in school policy.”

The most important of those points, said Baylan, was that teaching should be non-confessional, “with no room for interpretation”.

All schools should be open to all pupils, he said, and the Swedish National Agency for Education would given the power to close schools which breached the rules.

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The Local/TT