Thursday, August 15, 2013

Opting Out

Recently I asked a Swedish visitor to our city if she knew of Laestadians.

"Oh, yes. Very strict." She said. She added that Laestadians had been in the news recently over dance classes in the schools. Not surprisingly, the incident happened in Pajala — a hotbed of Laestadianism.


Citing European human rights law, a family of strict Lutheran faith in northern Sweden have managed to overturn a decision by their daughters' school, which had refused to allow the three girls to skip out on "sinful" dance class during PE.

Here's the article.

It seems reasonable that the arts be a part of every child's school curriculum, and also reasonable that a child be able to opt out of an activity that conflicts with his or her religious beliefs. I remember in my small public school that Jehovah's Witnesses would leave the room during birthday parties. If my parents had known that there was dancing in gym class, I'm sure they would have required the same of me. (Square dancing as a gateway drug?). My children tell me that some students "sit out" the dancing in their gym classes.

But there's an obvious problem here. Schools are at risk of losing their arts and sports programs when children opt out of them. This was a concern of teachers in Davenport, Washington, when large OALC families began making their preferences known to the school district there. Teachers in some conservative towns are leery of "controversial" subjects such as evolution because of backlash from parents.

The family cited human rights law to make their case. Should the rights of children include freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion?