TOP Q: “Is It Unjust To Outlaw Schools, Even Private Religious Ones, From Teaching Religious Doctrines As Though True?”

Sweden is planning to make it illegal, even for private schools, to teach religious doctrines as true. Their content may be discussed, of course, but they will not be able to be presented as facts.

In The Guardian, Andrew Brown explains the issues involved and the ulterior motives which may really explain the legislation:

The Swedish government has announced plans to clamp down hard on religious education. It will soon become illegal even for private faith schoolsto teach religious doctrines as if they were true. In an interesting twist on the American experience, prayer will remain legal in schools – after all, it has no truth value. But everything that takes place on the curriculum’s time will have to be secular. “Pupils must be protected from every sort of fundamentalism,” said the minister for schools, Jan Björklund.

Creationism and ID are explicitly banned but so is proselytising even in religious education classes. The Qur’an may not be taught as if it is true even in Muslim independent schools, nor may the Bible in Christian schools. The decision looks like a really startling attack on the right of parents to have their children taught what they would like. Of course it does not go so far as the Dawkins policy of prohibiting parents from trying to pass on their doctrines even in their own families – and, if it did, it would certainly run foul of the European convention on human rights. It does not even go as far as Nyamko Sabuni, the minister for integration – herself born in Burundi – would like: she wanted to ban all religious schools altogether. But it is still a pretty drastic measure from an English perspective.

The law is being presented in Sweden as if it mostly concerned fundamentalist Christian sects in the backwoods; but the Christian Democratic party, which represents such people if anyone does, is perfectly happy with the new regulation. There is little doubt that combating Islamic fundamentalism is the underlying aim, especially in conjunction with another new requirement that all independent schools declare all their funding sources. This would allow the inspectors – whose budget is being doubled – to concentrate their efforts on those schools most likely to be paid to break the rules.

In the background to these announcements comes the release of a frightening documentary film on Swedish jihadis, which follows young men over a period of two years on their slow conversion to homicidal lunacy.

The question is whether we in Britain will come to see this as a necessary move in the struggle to contain Islamist ideologies. Can a defence of freedom convincingly be mounted by a state that takes such a firm view of what is or is not true? Or can freedom not be preserved without such measures?

So, today’s open philosophical question, “Is It Unjust To Outlaw Schools, Even Private Religious Ones, From Teaching Religious Doctrines As Though True?”

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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