Children at a Christian preschool in Sweden are no longer allowed to say grace at mealtimes, “Amen”, or talk about the Bible, after a ruling by the Umeå municipality. They should thank ‘sun and rain’ for meals instead.
Visiting the preschool for an inspection, supervisors from the district said the activities run contrary to the Swedish Education Act, which forbids educational content during school time from containing confessional elements, and states that children at must always have the choice of whether or not to participate.
The municipality said it felt that children at the Salvation Army-run kindergarten were not given enough of an opportunity to opt out of saying grace at mealtimes.
“The Education Act can be interpreted in different ways,” said the preschool’s manager Britt Marie Mårtensson. She told Swedish broadcaster STV, she did not think grace at kindergarten would come under the umbrella of “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,” Ms. Mårtensson added, telling the Swedish broadcaster:
Children at the preschool now sing a rhyme which gives thanks to the sun and rain at mealtimes, instead of saying grace.
“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,” said the kindergarten head.
Staff at the kindergarten were also prohibited from holding any more “Bible Snacktimes”, an activity in which children and teachers discussed the contents of the Bible.
Preschools strategy planner at Umeå Municipality Pian Rosell explained whilst confessional elements are permitted at religious kindergartens and schools, they must not play any part in educational activities, admitting that lines are much more blurred at a preschool level.
“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.