printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


International Religious Freedom Report 2004
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, the state church, enjoys some benefits not available to other faiths.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 150,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 4.5 million. Citizens are considered to be members of the state church unless they explicitly associate themselves with another denomination; 86 percent of the population (approximately 3.9 million persons) nominally belongs to the state church. However, actual church attendance is considered to be rather low.

Other religious groups operate freely and include various Protestant Christian denominations (153,104; 3.4 percent of the population), Muslims (75,761; 1.6 percent), and Roman Catholics (44,153; 1 percent). Buddhists, Jews, Orthodox, Sikhs, and Hindus are present in very small numbers, together comprising well under 1 percent of the population. The Norwegian Humanist Association--the only national organization for those who do not formally practice any religion, including atheists--has 69,652 registered adult members and claims 10,000 children as associate members. Persons cannot register as full members until they reach adulthood. The Government estimates that an additional 6 percent of the population (roughly 273,000 persons) does not formally practice religion.

The majority of European and American immigrants, who make up approximately half of the foreign-born population, are either Christian or nonreligious, with the notable exception of Muslim refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo. Most non-Western immigrants practice Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, or Hinduism. Foreign missionaries and other religious workers operate freely in the country.

Forty-two percent of the country's religious minorities are concentrated in the Oslo metropolitan area, including 76 percent of the country's Muslims and the country's entire Buddhist community.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway is the state church. It is supported financially by the State, and there is a constitutional requirement that the King and at least one-half of the Cabinet belong to this church. Church officials and some politicians have spoken in favor of a greater separation in the state-church relationship. In 2002, the Government appointed an official State-Church Commission to review the future of the state-church relationship. The commission has its own secretariat and has members from several parts of society, including different church groups and other religions, politicians, legal experts, and the Sami people. The commission is expected to present its assessment to Parliament at the end of 2005.

A religious community is required to register with the Government only if it desires state support, which is provided to all registered denominations on a proportional basis in accordance with membership.

There are no special licensing or registration requirements for foreign religious workers. Foreign religious workers are subject to the same visa and work permit requirements as other foreign workers.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

A 1995 law introduced a course that covers world religions and philosophy and promotes tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs; however, based on the country's history and the importance of Christianity to society, the course devotes more time to Christianity. All children must attend this mandatory class, and there are no exceptions for children of other faiths; on special grounds, students may be exempted from participating in or performing specific religious acts such as church services or prayer, but they may not forgo instruction in the subject. Organizations for atheists as well as Muslim communities have contested the legality of forced religious teaching. These organizations have contested the teaching of the subject in the courts claiming that it is a breach of freedom of religion and parents' rights to provide religious instruction to their children. In February 2002, the Humanist Association appealed the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg; the case remained pending at the end of the period covered by this report.

In the past, Muslims have encountered some difficulties in obtaining local permission to build mosques in areas where they are concentrated. Since 1975 the town council in Drammen had regularly turned down applications to build a mosque. However, during the period covered by this report, the Muslim community in Drammen received permission to build a mosque. No other problems with permission to construct mosques have been recorded.

The Workers' Protection and Working Environment Act permits prospective employers to ask job applicants who are applying for positions in private schools, religious schools, or day care centers, whether they agree to teach and behave in accordance with the institutions or religion's beliefs and principles.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. A Cooperation Council for Faith and Secular Society includes the state church and other religious communities, including the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and secular humanist communities. The Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religious Beliefs works to facilitate closer coordination and international cooperation on religious freedom issues, and supports projects in China, Azerbaijan, and Indonesia among other countries. The Ecumenical Council of Christian Communities has been active in promoting cooperation within the Christian community. There also has been cooperation between the various religious communities on human rights issues in the past several years. Bilateral dialogue between the state church and the Muslim and Jewish communities has generated statements in support of minority rights and human rights.

Jewish persons have reported a doubling of anti-Semitic incidents in the last 2 years. The majority of the 40 reported incidents in 2003 involved verbal harassment of primary and secondary Jewish students by non-Jewish students. A small number of incidents involved threats against Jewish persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic violence or vandalism.

The Government is vigilant in fighting anti-Semitism and promoting religious tolerance. In April Prime Minister Bondevik met with two Jewish children who had been harassed on the basis of their religion and, at the conclusion of the meeting, issued a strong public statement condemning anti-Semitism and calling on the public to fight anti-Semitism more actively.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. The U.S. Embassy sponsored the participation of a U.S. constitutional law expert in an Oslo Coalition seminar on religious freedom.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.