The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose, practice, or change one’s religion. It declares the Church of Norway is the country’s established church, and the government continued to provide it with exclusive benefits, including funds for salaries and benefits of clergy and staff. A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs. After concerns expressed by religious and life stance groups, the government revised a draft law governing these groups, which, among other changes, would establish a minimum threshold of 50 members for groups to be eligible for government funding. Parliament did not vote on the law by year’s end. The government continued to implement an action plan to combat anti-Semitism, particularly hate speech, and said it would renew it for five more years; it announced it would develop a similar plan to combat anti-Muslim sentiment. A state television station broadcast an anti-Semitic cartoon. The government continued to provide financial support for interreligious dialogue.
During the year police received 144 reports of religiously based hate crimes. Police arrested a man for an attempted mass shooting at an Islamic center in an Oslo suburb. Several groups reported anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic sentiment remained prevalent among extremist groups and internet hate speech against Jews and Muslims increased during the year. A court sentenced a man to 60 days in prison for sending 1,300 anti-Semitic emails in 2016.
U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the Ministry of Children and Families (MCF) to discuss the draft law on religion, public financing for faith and life stance organizations, and financial preferences for the Church of Norway. Embassy staff discussed with officials from the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the government’s efforts to prosecute religiously based hate crimes. Embassy staff continued to meet with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), numerous faith groups, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews, and humanists to discuss issues including religious freedom and tolerance and integration of minority groups. The embassy routinely used social media to share messages of religious tolerance and highlight religious groups celebrating religious holidays or events.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and individuals’ right to change, manifest, and propagate the religion of their choosing; it grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain schools and provide religious instruction. The law requires religious groups with more than 250 members to register. According to an imam associated with the Islamic Association, the association experienced delays in registering, preventing the group from officially registering marriages, births, and other official acts. A Jewish community representative said it had requested the government to lower the community registration threshold to 200 members. According to Rastafarian representatives, because marijuana use was illegal and subject to punitive fines, Rastafarians hesitated to use it for religious purposes. In July the government established a commission to review and make recommendations on the regulatory framework for cannabis; it met for the first time in October. The Ministry of Education increased enforcement of required vaccinations for all children attending school but granted some waivers on religious grounds. National insurance plans did not cover traditional doctors used by the Rastafarian community, according to community members. Rastafarians again reported officials from the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government engaged in constructive dialogue and outreach with the Rastafarian community.
According to a local imam with the Islamic Association, some male and female members of the Muslim community experienced verbal harassment when they wore head coverings and clothing that identified them as Muslim. The Christian Council, comprised of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodist Churches, the Salvation Army, and the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, continued to hold interdenominational meetings to promote respect for religious diversity and tolerance.
U.S embassy officials discussed the status of public consultations on marijuana decriminalization, the Religious Advisory Committee, and general issues related to respect for religious minorities with officials of the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, and Local Government, which is responsible for issues regarding religious groups. Embassy officials also discussed on several occasions in October, November, and December issues related to religious freedom with leaders of the Rastafarian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. The government does not require religious groups to register; however, registered groups receive tax-exempt status. Throughout the year, religious groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) continued to express concerns that two separate draft laws, one requiring religious groups to register with the government and the other criminalizing, defining, and punishing hate crimes and speech, could potentially infringe on religious freedom and freedom of speech. In March the Pretoria High Court ordered the Dutch Reformed Church to allow individual church councils to recognize and bless same-sex relationships and to employ noncelibate gay clergy. In September the Constitutional Court ruled that parental rights to religious freedom did not include the right to discipline their children using corporal punishment (including spanking), in response to a case brought by the NGO Freedom of Religion SA.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recorded 36 anti-Semitic incidents during the year – a 15-year low. Numerous individuals made anti-Semitic comments throughout the year. Religious leaders reported a number of anti-Muslim incidents, including vandalism of several mosques and desecration of Muslim graves in a Cape Town cemetery, and attempts to prevent the slaughter of animals for Eid-al-Adha.
U.S. government officials met with religious groups and NGOs, including Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, and humanist representatives, to gauge and discuss issues of religious freedom, including cases of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment, and a proposed draft bill that would require religious institutions to register with the government in order to operate.