A Christian preschool in Sweden has banned children from saying grace at mealtimes, talking about the Bible, or saying “Amen”.
The decision to forbid children at the school in Umea to engage in religious practices was reached after a school inspection. The municipality’s supervisors in charge of education noted that the Christian activities violate Sweden’s educational policies, Swedish National Broadcaster STV reported.
Sweden’s Education Act prohibits schools from having confessional elements during school time and says children should be able to opt-out of religious practices.
Inspectors believed the preschool, run by the Salvation Army, didn’t give children a choice as to whether they wanted to participate in elements of the day such as saying grace before a meal.
Britt Marie Mårtensson, the kindergarten’s manager, told the broadcaster that Sweden’s Education Act “can be interpreted in different ways” and thought saying grace at mealtimes wouldn’t constitute “education”.
“As a confessional activity, we knew we could no longer have prayer time while children are at their desks where they learn, so we thought we would add grace as a nice feature during mealtimes,” she said. “We interpreted the law differently from the municipality.”
The manager told the broadcaster that after the municipality’s decision, the kids now sing a rhyme and give thanks the sun, the rain, and the food at mealtimes.
“It’s sad because grace is a tradition, but the rhyme is also nice and it allows the kids to choose to whom and what they want to give thanks,” she added.
In addition to banning grace, the educational supervisors barred the preschool’s personnel from having “Bible Snacktimes” where children and teachers talk about the Bible.
Pian Rosell, a preschool strategy planner at the municipality that made the ruling, stood by the decision but agreed that the Education Act isn’t clear when it comes to guiding preschools.
“It isn’t as hard to distinguish between activities which are educational and ones which aren’t in elementary schools, because teaching happens in class, whereas when it comes to kindergartens it can be difficult to tell,” she said.