While the bans introduced by two municipalities have sparked controversy and have been called anti-democratic, their supporters have maintained that they are defending secular traditions and have struck a blow against the religious oppression of women, who they say no ‘does not belong to “feminist Sweden”.
A Swedish appeals court ruled illegal the ban on the Islamic veil in schools, introduced by the municipalities of Skurup and Staffanstorp.
Hereby, the court upheld an earlier decision of the administrative court, pointing out that the ban contradicts both Swedish and international law.
“Being allowed to practice or display one’s religion is something that is protected both by the Instrument of Government and by the European Convention,” Court of Appeal President Dag Stegeland said in a press release.
The municipalities of Skurup and Staffanstorp had previously decided to ban the wearing of headscarves at school. At Skurup, the ruling applies to both students and staff and at Staffanstorp only to students.
By law, covering the head or hair can be motivated by a religious belief and is considered part of the individual’s religious practice or an expression of the individual’s freedom of expression.
According to Speaker Dag Stegeland, the protection of religious freedom in the instrument of government is absolute.
“The fact that the Education Act says school education must be non-denominational is about teaching, not what clothes you are allowed to wear. Restricting religious freedom like the municipalities have done therefore lacks constitutional support in Swedish law, ”said Dag Stegeland.
In 2019, the Moderate Diet Staffanstorp Municipality in Skåne County introduced a ‘zero tolerance’ for Islamic headgear for young children as part of its integration plan.
The ban was intended to ensure that only Swedish equality and values applied. Subsequently, the moderate Liberal-Conservative Party, the Swedish National-Conservative Democrats and the Local Skurup Party joined forces to ban Islamic headgear in the town of Skurup (also in Skåne County) and in schools. and nursery schools in the surrounding municipality. The ban involved scarves, burqas, niqabs and other clothing intended to conceal the face, and is valid for students and staff.
The two bans sparked heated media debate. While liberal and left-wing politicians and opinion-makers strongly condemned the bans they saw as oppression and an attack on religious freedom and women’s rights, supporters of the bans said they respected secular traditions and dealt a blow to the religious oppression of women, which does not belong to feminist Sweden.
In addition, some have argued that the authorization of religious hairstyles is a slippery slope, which may ultimately lead to the normalization of polygamy and child marriage, which are not uncommon in Islamic countries.
The number of Muslims in Sweden has skyrocketed in recent decades, from several hundred in the 1950s to over 800,000 in a country of over 10 million today. The emerging conflict between Islamic teachings and Swedish feminist and liberal philosophy has raised issues hitherto unknown to the Scandinavian and predominantly Lutheran nation. Among other things, many Muslims may find it difficult to come to an agreement on issues such as women’s rights and the acceptance of sexual minorities, which in Sweden are seen as points of pride.