DEFINITIONS OF NORWEGIAN WORDS AND ABBREVIATIONS
Forskrift: A legally binding set of rules that must be sanctioned by law.
Lov: A law that is passed by the National Assembly.
Trossamfunn: A religious or philosophical denomination.
Trossamfunnsloven: The law of the denominations of religion and of the philosophy of life. (https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/2020-04-24-31)
Trossamfunnsforskriften: The rules about how trossamfunnsloven must be treated (https://lovdata.no/dokument/SF/forskrift/2020-12-18-2825)
EMK: European Commission of Human Rights
SP: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Translated by Rolf J. Furuli, Stavern, Norway
May 27, 2022
The County Governor in Oslo and Viken
1914 Ytre Enebakk
Julie Skjømming 22003545
Refusal of government grants for 2021
The County Governor refers to the claim for government grants dated 02.26.2021, the letter from the Ministry of Children and Families dated 04.15.2021, our letter dated 05.27.2021, and your comments in the letter dated 06.23.2021.
The County Governor decided to launch an investigation and postponed the processing of the claim of government grants in the letter dated 09.15.2021. As an answer to our letter, we received comments from Jehovah’s Witnesses dated 11.19.2021.
The County Governor refuses to give Jehovah’s Witnesses government grants for 2021; conf. trossamfunnsforskriften § 11, first comma, letters a) and d); conf. trossamfunnsloven §§ 2 and 6.
The facts of the case
The County Governor has received a letter from Rolf Furuli in connection with the exclusion and disfellowshipping of members. The Ministry of Children and Families has asked the County Governor to consider whether the information given by Furuli has any significance for the registration of government grants for Jehovah’s Witnesses; conf. trossamfunnsloven § 6; and possibly consider the need for doing a more detailed investigation; conf. trossamfunnsforskriften § 10.
In connection with the investigation, we have considered the comments of the religious denomination and its literature.
The legal relations
Trossamfunnsloven § 2, second comma
The denominations of religion and of the philosophy of life make their own conditions for membership and rules regarding how to join the denomination. Leaving the denomination should always be made in writing.
Trossamfunnsloven § 6, first comma
If a denomination of religion or of the philosophy of life, or persons who act on behalf of the denomination apply violence or coercion or make threats, violate the rights of children or violate bans of discrimination rooted in law, or in other ways seriously violate the rights or freedom of others, the denomination can be denied the government grants in whole or in part. Government grants can also be denied in whole or in part if the denomination calls for or supports the violations that are mentioned in this comma.
Trossamfunnsforskriften § 11
The County Governor can decide to deny the grants if the denomination of religion or of the philosophy of life
- does, or calls for or supports the violations that are mentioned in trossamfunnsloven § 6, first comma.
- uses the grants for purposes different from issues related to religion or to the philosophy of life
- fails to report, or report in a deficient or wrong way
- does not follow the rules of the law regarding entering or leaving the denomination
- has given much too high a number of members or has given other wrong information that is significant for the decision of the grants.
In the consideration of the affairs mentioned in the first comma, letters a-e, that may lead to the refusal of giving grants to the denomination of religion or of the philosophy of life, particular weight must be put on projects that the denomination has introduced to prevent the mentioned affairs. Weight must also be put on how serious the affair is and whether it is intentional.
If there is reason for denying the grants, after a definite evaluation the grants may be reduced. If the denomination of religion or of the philosophy of life in a systematic way, continuously and intentionally have done, called for, or supported violations that are mentioned in trossamfunnsloven § 6, first comma, the grants in whole should be denied.
European Commission of Human Rights, Article 9 (EMK)
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 18, No. 2 (SP)
No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
The Norwegian Constitution § 104, third comma
Children have the right to protection of their personal integrity. The authorities of the state shall create conditions that facilitate the child’s development, including ensuring that the child is provided with the necessary economic, social and health security, preferably within their own family.
Convention of the Rights of the Child, article 19
States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
The evaluation of the County Governor
According to trossamfunnsloven § 8 the County Governor has the authority of the supervision of registered denominations of religion and of the philosophy of life. Jehovah’s Witnesses were registered at the County Governor 10.15.1985 and are registered until 12.31.2022 according to the preliminary rules of the new trossamfunnsloven § 23, second comma. Therefore, the denomination is subjugated to our supervision. As a part of our supervision, we must ensure that the denomination is fulfilling its obligations according to the law.
On the basis of our investigations, we have concluded that Jehovah’s Witnesses acts in violation of the requirements of grants according to trossamfunnsloven §§ 2, second comma and 6, first comma.
Trossamfunnsloven § 2 second comma, declares,
“The denominations of religion and of the philosophy of life make their own conditions for membership and rules regarding how to join the denomination. Leaving the denomination should always be made in writing.”
The preparatory works of the law say that members must be able to resign without any requirements and without any hindrance from the denomination. This is anchored in the rights of religious freedom, including EMK, article 9, and SP, article 18, No. 2. The interpretation that the preparatory works present accords with the expressed interpretation of the United Nations’ Committee of Human Rights.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have previously clarified their practice of disfellowshipping in a letter dated 0.3.04.2021 to Kjell Ingolf Ropstad who was the minister of the Ministry of Children and Families at that time. The letter was enclosed with the statement of Jehovah’s Witnesses that was received here on 06.23.2021. The letter asked the question “whether Jehovah’s Witnesses try to avoid those who do not belong to the denomination any longer.” Their answer was:
“We do not avoid those who are baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses but no longer are preaching for others and who possibly also have ceased to convene with their fellow believers.
One who violates the moral norms of the Bible, will not automatically be disfellowshipped. But if a baptized Jehovah’s Witness makes the habit of violating the moral norms of the Bible and does not want to change, he or she will be disfellowshipped, and we avoid the person. This is a procedure that is based on the teaching of the Bible. All Jehovah’s Witnesses accept to live according to these norms when they make a conscious decision to be baptized.” (Letter to Ropstad 03.04.21)
However, the book Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will says that a member who has chosen to disassociate himself will be treated in the same way as one who has been disfellowshipped:
The term “disassociation” applies to the action taken by a person who is a baptized Witness but deliberately repudiates his Christian standing by stating that he no longer wants to be recognized as, or known as, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Or he might renounce his place in the Christian congregation by his actions, such as by becoming part of a secular organization that has objectives contrary to Bible teachings and therefore is under judgment by Jehovah God.
If a person who is a Christian chooses to disassociate himself, a brief announcement is made to inform the congregation, stating: “[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Such a person is treated in the same way as a disfellowshipped person.
The consequence of leaving the congregation is that the person no longer can have any contact with family and friends in the congregation. The denomination clearly says that members must not have any contact with disfellowshipped members. As we see from the paragraph above, this is also the case regarding members who have resigned. This practice may cause the members to feel the pressure to remain in the denomination.
According to the evaluation of the County Governor, this practice is a hindrance to the rights of the members for a free resigning and a violation of trossamfunnsloven § 2, second comma. According to trossamfunnsforskriften § 11 d), this can be a reason for denying the denomination the grants.
Disfellowshipping minors who are baptized publishers
A letter from the Ministry asked the County Governor to look into the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses of disfellowshipping children. The denomination has in a letter to Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, who was the minister of the Ministry of Children and Families, dated 03.04.2021, described how the denomination treats a baptized minor who is violating the rules of the denomination:
“If a baptized Witness, regardless of age, has the custom of violating the moral norms of the Bible without expressing remorse, the same practice as previously mentioned will apply.”
In this quotation, Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to the practice of disfellowshipping as described in the same letter.
The book Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will describes how minors are treated:
Serious wrongdoing on the part of minor children who are baptized should be reported to the elders. When the elders handle cases of serious sins involving a minor, it is preferable that the baptized parents of the young person be present. They will want to cooperate with the judicial committee, not attempting to shield the erring child from necessary disciplinary action. Just as when dealing with adult offenders, the judicial committee endeavors to reprove and restore the wrongdoer. However, if the young person is unrepentant, disfellowshipping action is taken.
A decision of disfellowshipping is made by the body of elders in the congregation. A disfellowshipping means that the person no longer is counted as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. This decision is announced to the congregation where he is a member, and the congregation is told to “stop keeping company” with the person. The denomination describes disfellowshipping as “strong discipline.”
We will consider whether disfellowshipping of minors who are baptized publishers is a violation of trossamfunnsloven § 6.
According to trossamfunnsloven § 6, a denomination that violates the rights of children, calls for or supports such a violation, can be denied the grants. In the preparatory works of trossamfunnsloven § 6, negative social control of children is used as an example of the violation of the rights of children that can be a reason for denying the grants.
The County Governor understands the concept of negative social control as different forms of supervision, pressure, threats, and coercion with the purpose of causing persons to live according to the norms of the family or the group. The characterization of the control is that it is systematic, and it may violate the rights of individuals among other things in connection with the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Norwegian law.
The denomination describes this practice as a strong form of discipline. Children in the congregation must follow a number of rules, and the consequence of not following them is to be disfellowshipped from the congregation, which means isolation from family and friends who are told to stop keeping company with those who have been disfellowshipped.
It is shown in their comments dated 11.19.2021 in paragraph 19 that the family bonds are not terminated, as long as they live in the same household. However, we understand the situation to be that the child cannot have contact with other close relatives (including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) or friends. This is a reaction because the child has violated the own rules of the denomination. We believe that this can be experienced as pressure or coercion in order to cause the child to behave in a certain way. We, therefore, consider the consequence of the violation of the rules as a form of punishment.
On this background, we consider the disfellowshipping of a minor who is a baptized member to be counted as negative social control and a violation of the rights of children according to trossamfunnsloven § 6. According to trossamfunnnsforskriften § 11, first comma a), this can be a reason for denying the denomination the grants.
The shutting off and social isolation off of unbaptized minors (unbaptized publishers)
A child who is not yet baptized, but who is a member of the congregation, can have the status of “unbaptized publisher.” If an unbaptized publisher commits a serious sin, these children can also “be isolated” from the fellowship in the congregation. This child will not be disfellowshipped, but the congregation will be informed that the members must be cautious in the relationship with the child.
In the book Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will we read the following about unbaptized minor publishers:
Young children may also qualify as publishers of the good news.
It would be appropriate for the parent to approach one of the elders on the Congregation Service Committee to discuss whether the child is qualified to become a publisher. The coordinator of the body of elders will arrange for two elders (one being a member of the service committee) to meet with the child and his believing parent(s) or guardian. If the child has a basic knowledge of Bible truth and gives evidence of wanting to share in the ministry, this would indicate good progress. After considering these and other factors similar to those that apply to adults, the two elders can determine whether the child may be recognized as an unbaptized publisher.
The denomination’s treatment of an unbaptized publisher who has committed a “serious sin” is explained in the following way:
If an unbaptized wrongdoer is unrepentant after two elders have met with him and have tried to help him, then it is necessary to inform the congregation. A brief announcement is made, stating: “[Name of person] is no longer recognized as an unbaptized publisher.” The congregation will then view the wrongdoer as a person of the world. Although the offender is not disfellowshipped, Christians exercise caution with regard to any association with him. (1 Cor. 15:33) No field service re- ports would be accepted from him.
The County Governor’s evaluation is that this practice must be counted as negative social control as well. We view social isolation as a form of punishment for the child. We consider this as a violation of the rights of children according to trossamfunnsloven § 6 and according to trossamfunnsforskriften § 11, first comma a). This can be a reason for denying the denomination the grants.
About the denial of the grants
We have concluded that Jehovah’s Witnesses have violated trossamfunnsloven §§ 2 and 6, and on this background, the denomination can be denied the grants according to trossamfunnsforskriften § 11. Whether the grants shall be denied requires a concrete evaluation, conf. “may.” According to trossamfunnsforskriften § 11, second and third comma, the County Governor must consider whether the situations are serious and deliberate. The preparatory works point out that the main rule is that the grants must be denied if the violations of the laws are systematic and deliberate.
We consider that the violations of the laws, that both violate the right of religious freedom and the right of children of protection against violence, must be viewed as serious. The mentioned practices are documented in books and study articles published by the denomination. The denomination has also written detailed rules regarding how a judicial committee functions and how the committee must decide questions about disfellowshipping. This practice is followed systematically by the denomination, and the members will be informed through different channels. On this background, we find that the violations of the laws are deliberate.
On the basis of a concrete evaluation, we find that the grants must be denied, conf. trossamfunnsforskriften § 11; conf. trossamfunnsloven § 6.
Regarding a partial denial of the grants
According to trossamfunnsforskriften § 11, third comma, the County Governor must consider if there is reason for a partial denial of the grants, instead of denying the grants as a whole. If the denomination systematically, continuously, and deliberately has done, called for, or supported violations that are mentioned in trossamfunnsloven § 6, first comma, the grants shall be denied as a whole.
We do not find any basis for a partial denial. The grants are denied as a whole, conf. trossamfunnsforskriften § 11, third comma.
The right to religious freedom
In your letter dated 11.19.2021, you describe why you think that your practice of disfellowshipping is protected by religious freedom. Therefore, we would remind you that trossamfunnsloven is a law dealing with grants, where the state has put different requirements for denominations that will get public grants. The state has the freedom to choose how it wants to support denominations. And the state has no positive obligations according to EMK article 9, as far as grants are concerned. EMD has also expressed that the access to “additional funding” is not related to the person’s possibility of manifesting his religion.
The purpose of trossamfunnsloven § 6 is to protect the rights and freedom of others. The requirements for grants must not be a tool to restrict the room of action for the denominations of religion and of the philosophy of life as far as different theological viewpoints and different views of values are concerned. The clear point of departure must be that there is room for different viewpoints regarding what is the morally “right thing” or which values are preferred. Therefore, the possibility of denying grants is restricted to the violations that are mentioned in the law.
The right to appeal
This decision can be appealed to the Ministry of Children and Families within 3 weeks after it has been received. A possible appeal must be sent to the County Governor. In order to send an appeal, the denomination can use the additions function “Send extra information” in the digital arrangement. Then you choose “Appeal of a decision.”
Forvaltningsloven §§ 18 1nd 19 contains the rules in connection with viewing the documents of the case.
Hege Skaanes Nyhus. Hege Rasch-Engh
Department Director. Assistant Director General
The Legal Department
. Prop.130 L (2018-2019) Chapter 24. Comments on the different provisions. Comments on trossamfunnsloven § 2.
. CCPR General Comment No. 22: Article 18 (Freedom of Thought, Conscience or Religion), paragraph 5.
. Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, pages 152, 153.
. Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, page 151; How to Remain in God’s Love, pages 39-41.
. Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, page 154.
. How to Remain in God’s Love, page 40.
. Prop.130 L (2018-2019) Chapter 24. Comments on the different provisions. Comments to trossamfunnsloven § 6.
. Consider the government’s plan of action against negative social control, forced marriages, and genital mutilation (2017-2020) page 12.
. Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, pages 76, 77.
. Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will, page 155.
. Prop 130 L (2018-2019) Chapter 24. Comments on trossamfunnsloven § 6, first comma.
. “Shepherd The Flock Of God” (the book for elders).
. Prop. 130 L (2018-2019) Chapter 5.2.4.
. EMD-2008-22897, paragraph 31.
. Prop. 130 L (2018-2019) Chapter 17.5, page 192.