Gothenburg, 17 October 2012
Chabad-Lubavitch representatives to Gothenburg, Sweden have a right to educate their children in accordance with their religious faith. That was the verdict issued Wednesday by the appellate judge who weighed the Namdars' complaints against city authorities fining them for homeschooling their children.
In its decision, the court recognized that the Namdars, who are both educators, have been providing their children with a "very satisfactory alternative" (through the International Shluchim Online School and private lessons) to standard Swedish schools while meeting their religious needs.
“I'm grateful to G-d for this judge's insight and sensitivity, ruling as he did with respect and appreciation for religious freedom, and allowing us to provide our children with the kind of Jewish education and yiddishkeit that we want for them," said Rabbi Alexander Namdar.
A breaking report about the case on lubavitch.com last year generated wide exposure, provoking an international outcry noted by the judge last month. In Chana Namdar, Rochel Namdar, Shterna Namdar, Rivka Namdar vs. Gothenburg City, Rabbi and Leah Namdar appealed an earlier ruling that would force them to enroll their children in Swedish schools. School authorities claimed they were in their right, enforcing a recent change to its laws stating that “religion is not considered important” as a reason for homeschooling.
In the nine-page verdict, the court ruled that the “government is deciding that the recent change to the law [that religion is not regarded as a valid reason] cannot stand in contravention to Sweden’s international obligation.” The decision's ramifications cut straight to the issue of a state's obligations to protect the religious freedoms of its citizens.
Attorney Richard Backenroth, who represented the Namdars, said that “With this decision the court is correcting the ignorance of Swedish clerical officers.” It is, he said, “a very happy day for all of us. This ruling is a victory for humanity.”
Testifying for the Namdars, Guy Linderman, who has been active in Swedish politics for many years, and who supported the law when it was drafted, emphatically objected to its application in the case of the Namdar children. These children, he explained, enjoy a high level education, and have gone on to study abroad, becoming teachers and earning advanced degrees.
The law was originally motivated by concern for Sweden’s immigrant children, “many of who were denied an education, and had grown up illiterate, incapable of signing their names,” he said. This is clearly not the situation here, he said, and applying the law in this way is mindless.
For the Namdars, who are dedicated to advancing Jewish education, Jewish awareness and faith in G-d in a culture that is decidedly atheistic and hostile to religion, this was a resounding triumph.
A pivotal moment in the case came towards the end, when Leah Namdar offered her own comments. Speaking passionately, she said that the law recently enacted in Sweden threatens the religious freedom of individuals protected under European and international law. "Belief in G-d is the bedrock of a healthy society," said the mother of 11.
Although they were threatened with hefty fines for every day that they they didn’t deliver their children to a Swedish school beginning last February 1, (which they expect will be dismissed) the Namdars did not interrupt their children’s schooling, trusting that the court would ultimately rule to protect its citizen's religious freedoms. Four of their daughters and their youngest son are studying at home through an international Jewish online school and private tutoring.
According to Attorney Backenroth, city authorities may possibly try to appeal the ruling. "But the court was very clear as to why it reached this decision, so the Supreme Court may not be willing to accept the case on appeal,” he said.
At home, the Namdar family celebrated the triumph with a resolve to forge ahead and enlarge on their educational and spiritual outreach activities.