Following a call by Swedish Education Minister Gustav Fridolin to tighten the regulation of religious "free schools" in the Nordic country, the ruling Social Democratic party renewed their pledge to free Swedish schools from all religious elements, the newspaper Aftonbladet reported.
"Those who do not support fundamental values around equality and human rights should be stopped from running free schools in Sweden," Fridolin argued in an opinion piece published by Aftonbladet.
In his article, Fridolin said that no one should be forced to engage in any religious practice at any school, even those founded by religious organizations.
"No child should be exposed to direct or indirect compulsion to take part in religious activities in any school in Sweden," Fridolin wrote. "And all education should be completely free of religious influence."
Consequently, Sweden's School Minister Anna Ekström and Public Administration Minister Ardalan Shekarabi confirmed that they want to "tear down the wall" they claimed ran through Swedish schools and increased segregation.
"We have seen cases of systematic gender segregation and opinions that do not belong in Swedish schools," Ekström told Aftonbladet.
Shekarabi, who recalled his preschool experience in Tehran, Iran, stressed a worrying development in Sweden's independent schools, which in many cases end up promoting oppression. Shekarabi argued the existing religious schools must be transformed into ordinary secular schools. How this will be done in practice is still subject to investigation.
While none of the three ministers mentioned any specific examples, their proposal came amid a hot nationwide debate, fueled by the recent controversial decision to let Islamic fundamentalist, headmaster and former Conservative MP Abdirizak Waberi to start a new Muslim school in the city of Borås, giving a hint on the possible targets. In the past, Waberi has been criticized for advocating polygamy, expressing a desire to live in a state ruled by sharia law, and promoting gender roles incompatible with Swedish values.
Nevertheless, the Swedish ministers' somewhat vaguely formulated intentions have raised questions among their compatriots. "Is it about Muslim schools?" Svenska Dagbladet leading journalist Maria Ludvigsson inquired in an opinion piece of the same name.
In a subsequent interview with Aftonladet, Fridolin stressed that unlike his Social Democratic colleagues, he was not interested in instating a total ban on religious schools.
"For my part, there is no point attacking Jewish schools that have existed in Sweden since the 1950s," Fridolin told Aftonbladet.
Nevertheless, he complained of the current regulations which don't allow school regulators to investigate the backgrounds of people or organizations willing to start a new school.
"If a club or group wants to rent a premises, we check who they are, but if they want to start a school, we say ‘just go ahead.' It's totally absurd," Fridolin said.
At present, Sweden has over 70 religious schools, the majority of which are Christian, about a dozen Islamic, and only a handful Jewish institutions.
At present, jurist Lars Arrhenius is working on a government mission to see that new school laws be set forth with respect to the European Convention of Human Rights. Arrhenius's investigation is expected to be completed by the New Year.