The government of Sweden has announced it will be banning any religious activities in schools except for those directly related to religion classes. It is also directing that in religious education, religious ideas must not be taught as though they are objectively true. A columnist in the UK's far-left Guardian newspaper has urged Britain to follow suit, implying that Britain's Catholic and Jewish schools are a terror threat.
Swedish Education Minister Jan Bjoerklund told reporters that religious activity "can take place… but only outside of coursework". He said that teaching should "not be influenced" by religious beliefs.
The move by the government is being defended as a reaction to the rise of violent Islamic extremism that police have identified with many Muslim schools in Britain and Europe. As such the move is supported by the Swedish Christian Democratic party.
"Pupils must be protected from every sort of fundamentalism," said Björklund.
Björklund used the example of the origins of human life, which, he said, must be taught from a "scientific" point of view, not a religious one.
"This is naturally brought about by the fact that different viewpoints are being discussed, for instance about the creation of the world — one based on science and one on religious views," Björklund told a news conference.
Björklund told reporters that the Intelligent Design theory would be banned from Swedish biology classes even as a proposed theory. The rules will make it illegal even for faith-based schools to teach that religious doctrines are objectively true on the grounds that this would be "proselytizing". Prayer, including religious services or assemblies, will remain legal, as long as no teacher in a classroom teaches that there is any reality behind it.
"Teaching in school must have a scientific basis," he said at a news conference.
Although its advocates are careful to point out that the theory called Intelligent Design is not the same as the religious opinion that God created the world in six days, the powerful anti-religious element in the scientific community, the media and most secularist governments have branded the theory with the smear term "creationism."
Included in the proposals was a pledge that the Swedish National Agency for Education will double the number of inspections for both private independent and state-run schools. Schools will also be required to report their funding sources. Schools that fail to adhere to the new standards could face fines or even government-enforced closures. 67 elementary schools and six high schools have a religious confessional orientation in Sweden. The new rules will require Parliamentary approval and are set to come into effect in 2009.
Commenting in the Guardian newspaper, British columnist Andrew Brown said the British government should follow suit and force Britain's Jewish, Muslim and Catholic independent schools to treat religion as though it were not true under the guise of addressing the threat of terrorism.
Brown wrote that although the willingness of Anglican schools "by and large, to teach religion as if it were not true" makes them no threat to the state, he implied that Jewish and Catholic schools are an equal threat as those fundamentalist Islamic institutions that have been identified by British police as nurturing violent extremism.
While "no one supposes that society is threatened by a terrorist movement nurtured in [Church of England] primary schools," he said the British government might be well advised to follow the Swedish example and force Jewish, Muslim and Catholic schools to adopt similar position.
Brown wrote, "Demanding that Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic schools stop teaching their own religions as if they were true, which is essentially the Swedish position, looks an impossible task for a British government. But I think it might also be a necessary one. It is certainly the only way to discover whether the parents of such schools really want the ‘ethos' or the pseudo-factual beliefs and what exactly it is that the people who fund them think they are buying with their money."