2014 Report on International Religious Freedom - Norway

Executive Summary    

The constitution protects the right to choose and practice one’s own religion and the government financially supported programs to increase tolerance. Although church and state are separate, the government continued to provide certain benefits solely to the Church of Norway, an evangelical Lutheran church. Some observers believe this practice allowed the Church of Norway to continue to function as a de facto state church. The government provided funds to increase the security at a synagogue and Jewish community facilities in Oslo, and continued programs designed to combat anti-Semitism and teach students about the Holocaust. The Norwegian Center against Racism criticized the police for reportedly failing to take seriously reports of hate crimes against Muslims.

The Jewish community voiced concern about an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes and vandalism. Commentators expressed concern that fundamentalist views had increased among second-generation immigrants from Muslim countries. A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sponsored programs to combat anti-Semitism and increase interfaith dialogue and cooperation.

U.S. embassy representatives engaged with faith groups, NGOs, media, and government officials on issues regarding religious tolerance and freedom. The embassy hosted a workshop on interfaith cooperation, led by two American imams, which focused on integration and the challenges for religious minorities. The embassy also hosted religious celebrations with members of interfaith communities, government officials, and NGOs to promote religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography    

The U.S. government estimates the total population is 5.1 million (July 2014 estimate). The National Statistics Bureau estimates 75 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Norway.

The National Statistics Bureau reports Christian denominations other than the Church of Norway have 337,316 registered members. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest with 140,109 registered members. Pentecostal congregations have approximately 39,400 registered members. Membership in Muslim congregations is 132,135. Muslims are located throughout the country, but the population is concentrated in the Oslo region. Jewish congregations have 781 registered members. There are two official Jewish congregations, one in Oslo and one in Trondheim. Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus together constitute less than 4.8 percent of registered members of religious groups.

Immigrants make up the majority of members of religious groups outside the Church of Norway. Immigrants from Poland and the Philippines have increased Roman Catholic Church membership. Immigrants from Muslim countries, including Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia, have increased the size of the Muslim community. All of these groups have greater representation in cities than in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom    

Legal Framework 

The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of their religion. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion. Any person over the age of 15 years has the right to join or leave a religious community. Parents have the right to decide their child’s religion before age 15, but must take into consideration the views of children once they reach the age of seven, and must give their views priority once they reach the age of 12.

A constitutional amendment separates the Church of Norway from the state, although the state continues financial support to the Church of Norway. The government does not appoint bishops, priests, or church clerks of the Church of Norway, but laws still regulate clerical salaries, and the government covers the cost of the benefit and pension plans of Church of Norway employees. Church of Norway staff will remain public employees until 2017.

The government provides financial support to all registered religious and lifestyle organizations, based on the number of members reported to the government. In order to register, a faith or lifestyle organization must notify the county governor and provide its creed and doctrine, activities, names of board members, names and responsibilities of group leaders, and operating rules, including who may become a member, voting rights, process for amending statutes, and process for dissolution. If a religious group does not register, it will not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on the organization’s activity.

The Norwegian Humanist Association is the largest lifestyle organization registered with the government.

The penal code covers violations of the right to religious freedom. It specifies penalties for expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs or members of religious groups, as well as for public discrimination on the basis of religion. The penalties may include a fine or imprisonment of up to six months.

In June parliament adopted the Act on Ritual Circumcision for Boys, requiring the procedure be conducted under the supervision of a licensed doctor.

The ombudsman for equality and anti-discrimination is charged with enforcing legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion. The ombudsman publishes non-binding findings in response to complaints that a person or organization has violated a law or regulation within the ombudsman’s mandate. The ombudsman also provides advice and guidance on anti-discrimination law.

Public schools offer a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10 (generally ages six to 16). CKREE reviews world religions and philosophies while promoting tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs, as well as for atheism. The Ministry of Education requires 55 percent of the CKREE course content be devoted to Christianity. Parents may request their children be exempted from participating in or performing specific religious acts, such as attending Christmas church services. The parents need not give a reason for requesting an exemption.

Individuals citing conscientious or other objection to registering for a year of military service may apply for a full exemption.

According to the law, the slaughter of an animal must be preceded by stunning or administering anesthetics, making kosher slaughter practices and some forms of halal meat preparation illegal.

Foreign religious workers are subject to the same visa and work permit requirements as other foreign workers.

Government Practices

Public hearings continued with regard to the transition of the Church of Norway from the state church (a legal status that ended in 2012) to a self-standing entity. A number of religious and non-governmental organizations said the direct financial benefits to the Church of Norway, available to no other faith community, indicated it continued to function as the de facto state church.

Jewish and Muslim communities interpreted the Act on Ritual Circumcision for Boys as an affirmation of their religious rights and strengthening of religious freedom. The Ministry of Health had consulted with the Jewish and Muslim communities as it drafted the act. The act recognized the religious practice of circumcision and eliminated the legal challenges to the practice. It provided guidance for the practice under the supervision of a health professional, and required health centers to provide professionals to supervise the surgery.

The national police unit for combating organized and other serious crimes maintained a web page for the public to contact police regarding online hate speech. The Norwegian Center against Racism continued criticizing the police for failing to take seriously reports of hate crimes against Muslims.

The Ministry of Local Government and Modernization provided one million Norwegian kroner ($135,318) for security at the Jewish Religious Community’s (DMT) facility and synagogue in Oslo based on incidents in prior years. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security maintained a dialogue with the DMT, the Police Security Services, and the Police Directorate aimed at ensuring the DMT’s facilities were properly safeguarded.

The Ministry of Defense allowed members of the military to wear religious symbols, including headgear, with military uniforms. A ban remained on wearing religious symbols, including headgear, with police uniforms.

The government permitted individual schools to decide whether to implement bans on religious garb such as burqas or niqabs.

Many religious organizations objected to the specific reference to “Christian Knowledge” in the title of the mandatory school course on religion, saying it promoted Christianity, especially the Church of Norway.

In response to the effective ban on the production of kosher and halal meat in the country by the law on animal slaughter, the Ministry of Agriculture waived import duties and provided guidance on import procedures to both the Jewish and Muslim communities to lessen the burden of importing kosher and halal meat.

The Norwegian Jewish Community, an NGO, complained about what it viewed as tolerance for anti-Semitic expression. It pointed to an online article by a U.S.-based correspondent of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), the government-owned media conglomerate, alleging that Jews were over-represented in and controlled the media in the United States.

The Ministry of Education continued grants for school programs raising awareness about anti-Semitism. Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27 as part of a National Plan of Action to Combat Racism and Discrimination. High school curricula included material on the deportation and extermination of Jewish citizens from 1942 to 1945.

The government continued to support “The White Buses,” an extracurricular program that took some secondary school students to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland and to other Nazi concentration camps to educate them about the Holocaust.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom    

There were three reports of religious discrimination made to the equality and anti-discrimination ombudsman, and 19 reports of hate crimes with a religious motive made to the police.

Commentators, terrorism experts, government officials, and individuals in the Muslim community expressed concern that fundamentalist views had increased among second-generation immigrants from majority Muslim countries. Some mosques and leaders of immigrant communities cooperated with the police and municipal social service organizations in an effort to support at-risk groups. Members of the Muslim community organized an anti-ISIL demonstration and received strong support from the police and government, including traffic control, access to the area in front of the parliament building, and an appearance by the prime minister, who called for religious tolerance and rejection of violence.

In April unknown vandals painted numerous swastikas and racist taunts at a school and sport facility in Skien. In September unknown perpetrators carved a swastika into the glass doors of the Trondelag Theater the day after the premiere of a Jewish puppet theater performance.

The Norwegian Center against Racism and a second NGO, the Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HC), conducted programs against anti-Semitism with financial support from the government. Both organizations developed materials used in high schools nationwide to promote tolerance for religious and ethnic diversity. They also screened materials used in public schools for anti-Semitic content. HC was the lead for the program for the prevention of anti-Semitism, racism, and undemocratic attitudes, under which it guided schools in the preparation of action plans.

The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion, an interfaith organization promoting dialogue and cooperation partly funded by the government, sponsored programs teaching tolerance and religious freedom. During the summer it launched a project with two affiliated mosques to counter violent fundamentalism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy    

U.S. embassy staff engaged with the government on religious freedom issues, including the financing of faith and lifestyle organizations, and the process of fully separating the Church of Norway from the government.

Embassy programs included an interfaith workshop on cooperation between religious communities, led by two U.S. imams. The workshop focused on themes such as integration and the challenges for religious minorities in the country. Muslim, Christian, and Jewish community leaders discussed widening the understanding among religious communities, promoting tolerance, and creating a safer environment to practice one’s faith.

The embassy also hosted an Eid celebration and a Thanksgiving meal with members of interfaith communities, government officials, and NGOs to promote religious tolerance. At both events the Charge d’Affaires supported religious diversity and stressed the importance of religious tolerance.