Swedish family fined and forced to flee home country for choosing to homeschool their autistic daughter
What’s at Stake:
- The right of parents to freely educate their children at home
- Government authorities overstepping their remit
Jonas and Tamara Himmelstrand wanted the best for their 13-year-old daughter. She had been diagnosed with a form of autism and required special attention and care, which she couldn’t get at any of the public schools in Sweden. The illness led to extreme shyness, and attending any school, even special needs schools, could have led to long-term psychological trauma. In agreement with their daughter’s psychologist, Jonas and Tamara decided that homeschooling her was the best option. However, the result of this decision was beyond anything they could have imagined.
Sweden’s parliament passed a law in 2010 which made criminal charges possible against parents who homeschool their children unless they have “exceptional circumstances.” Given that a psychologist had diagnosed their daughter with autism-spectrum disorder, the Himmelstrands applied for an exception. Even though they filed it before the law took effect in July 2011, local authorities denied the application and fined Jonas and Tamara more than €20,000 for educating their daughter at home.
This fine meant they were forced to flee to Finland, where they filed suit against the decision. Sweden’s courts upheld the fine and even though they lowered the amount, it was still so high that the family could not pay it and so had to remain in Finland.
With the help of Alliance Defending Freedom and the Home School Legal Defense Association, the Himmelstrand family brought their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in April 2013. Upon filing the case, Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska said: “Parents should have the freedom and authority to make decisions regarding their children’s education without government interference. Punishing this family with exorbitant fines for doing what they and the girl’s psychologist both agreed was best for her is reprehensible.”
Sadly, in September 2013 the ECHR decided not to hear the case. However, Alliance Defending Freedom and the Home School Legal Defense Association continue to fight for the Himmelstrands’ right to educate their daughter at home in Sweden, having launched a new case to the court in December 2013.
Our Role in the Case
Alliance Defending Freedom provided legal assistance and funding for this case and took the case to the European Court of Human Rights. Alliance Defending Freedom continues to work with partners in and outside of Sweden in support of the Himmelstrand family and their continued efforts to be allowed to raise their child responsibly and with the care she needs.