Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right to choose and practice or change one’s religion. A hate crime law punishes some expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs. The government continued to implement an action plan against anti-Semitism, which included funding for training and education and programs to safeguard Jewish culture, and called for more comprehensive statistics on hate crimes. Police provided security at Jewish facilities in Oslo. The government ended the status of the Church of Norway as the state church, but continued to provide exclusive benefits to the Church. The government also provided financial support to other religious and nonreligious (humanist) communities to promote dialogue and tolerance among these groups. The government withdrew its longstanding financial support to the Islamic Council Norway (IRN) due, it said, to a loss of confidence in the organization to support dialogue efforts, the main purpose for which it had received funding. For the first time, the military hired humanist and Muslim chaplains.

In 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, police reported 97 hate crimes nationwide categorized as religiously motivated, up from 79 in 2015. As in the previous year, Oslo police reported most of the religiously motivated hate crime incidents in their district consisted of assault and hate speech targeting Muslims. In 2016, the equality and antidiscrimination ombudsman (LDO) reported receiving nine complaints that it concluded involved religious discrimination and responding to 85 inquiries pertaining to religious discrimination. A government survey of anti-Semitism found prejudicial views about Jews still prevailed but had declined since 2011, while negative stereotypes of Muslims were widespread. The Jewish Community in Oslo (DMT) voiced concerns about continued anti-Semitism online and a march in Kristiansand in July by the self-styled neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement that police allowed to take place despite denial of a march permit by local authorities.

U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the Ministry of Culture (MOC) for updates on the separation of the Church of Norway from the government and to discuss the ministry’s role in supporting religious umbrella organizations and activities to promote interreligious dialogue. Embassy staff also talked with MOC staff about discussions on circumcision in the country and a proposed new law to govern religious life that was undergoing public comment. Embassy representatives met regularly with individuals from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and faith groups such as the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), and DMT to discuss religious freedom, integration of minority groups, and life as a religious person.

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.3 million (July 2017 estimate). The National Statistics Bureau estimates 71.0 percent of the population belongs to the Church of Norway, an evangelical Lutheran church.

The National Statistics Bureau reports membership of religious and life-stance communities outside the Church of Norway number is approximately 619,000, 11.7 percent of the population. This includes 339,000 registered members of Christian denominations, 6.4 percent of the population, of which the Roman Catholic Church is the largest, with 152,000 registered members, and 2.9 percent of the population. There are 153,000 members of Muslim congregations, 2.9 percent of the population. Pentecostal congregations have approximately 39,000 registered members. Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus together account for nearly 30,000 registered members. Jewish congregations have approximately 770 registered members.

The Norwegian Humanist Association, with a registered membership of approximately 93,000, accounts for nearly all those registered with life-stance organizations (nonreligious or philosophical communities with organizational ethics based on humanist values).

Immigrants comprise the majority of members of religious groups outside the Church of Norway. Immigrants from Poland and the Philippines have increased the number of Catholics, while those from such countries as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia have increased the size of the Muslim community. Catholics and Muslims generally have greater representation in cities than in rural areas. Muslims are located throughout the country, but the population is concentrated in the Oslo region. Many recent immigrants from Muslim majority countries still reside in asylum reception centers. According to Norwegian Directorate of Immigration statistics, approximately 5,600 of the 6,300 persons residing in reception centers as of October come from Muslim majority countries.

The government reported a 0.5 percent decline in the number of members of religious or life-stance communities outside the Church of Norway during the year.

Legal Framework

The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of their religion, and all religious and philosophical communities shall be supported on equal terms. The constitution also states, “the King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion,” and that national values shall remain anchored in the country’s Christian and humanistic heritage. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion. Any person over the age of 15 has the right to join or leave a religious community. Parents have the right to decide their child’s religion before age 15, but they must take into consideration the views of children once they reach the age of seven and give their views priority once they reach the age of 12.

A constitutional amendment, effective January 1, separates the Church of Norway from the state, but the constitution stipulates the Church of Norway shall remain the national church and as such shall be supported by the state. The government continues to provide direct financial support to the Church as a block grant in the national budget and covers the cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. Municipal governments also provide direct support to individual congregations.

The penal code specifies penalties, including a fine or imprisonment for up to six months, for discrimination based on religion and for expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs or members of religious groups. In practice, the government applies penalties for disrespect for religious beliefs only in cases of incitement to violence.

All registered religious and life-stance organizations are eligible to apply for financial support from the government. Nearly 800 such organizations receive state support, based on the number of each group’s members. In order to register, a faith or life-stance organization must notify the county governor and provide its creed and doctrine, activities, names of board members, names and responsibilities of group leaders, operating rules – including who may become a member – voting rights, the process for amending statutes, and the process for dissolution. A group registers only once in one county but reports its national tally of members. If a religious group does not register, it will not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on its activities. By law, life-stance communities, but not religious groups, must have a minimum of 500 members to qualify for government funding.

Public schools continue to include a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10. State-employed instructors teach the CKREE, which covers world religions and philosophies while promoting tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs, as well as for atheism. Up to 50 percent of the CKREE course content is devoted to Christianity. Students may not opt out of this course. Schools do not permit religious ceremonies, but schools may organize religious outings, such as attending Christmas services at a local Lutheran church. Children may be exempted at their parents’ request from participating in or performing specific religious acts, such as a class trip to a church. The parents need not give a reason for requesting an exemption. Students may apply to be absent in order to celebrate certain religious holidays, such as an Eid or Passover, but there is no celebration or observance of these holidays in public schools.

The LDO reviews cases of religious discrimination. Anyone may file a complaint with the ombudsman. The ombudsman publishes nonbinding findings, which provide the basis for legal investigations and follow-up, 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 antidiscrimination law.

In June parliament approved a revision of the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act, effective January 1, 2018, which prohibits discrimination based on religion, among other factors. The law consolidates several previous statutes.

Individuals may apply for a full exemption for religious reasons from the required registration for a year of military service and are not required to perform alternative service.

According to the law, an animal must first be stunned or administered anesthetics before slaughter, making most traditional kosher and halal slaughter practices illegal. Halal and kosher meat may be imported. The IRN certifies some locally produced meat as halal upon review of applications and procedures submitted by producers or distributors that demonstrate that the stunned animal’s heart is still beating when slaughtered.

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

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization provided 3.3 million Norwegian kroner (NOK) ($403,000) for security at the DMT facility and synagogue in Oslo. This was similar to the total amount provided in 2016, which was a significant increase from 2015. The greater amounts since 2015, according to the ministry, were due to the overall threat assessment in the country and Europe. The DMT continued to maintain a dialogue with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security (MOJ) and the police to ensure proper safeguarding of the DMT’s facilities.

The national police unit for combating organized and other serious crimes continued to maintain a web page for the public to contact police regarding hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents. The government continued to emphasize its national strategy against hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, which focused on improving national statistics on hate speech and associated incidents, improving awareness of hate crimes in police training, and promoting education and research on such crimes and speech on the internet.

After engagement with religious and life-stance communities, the armed forces hired humanist and Muslim chaplains for the first time. The Norwegian Humanist Association reported some hospitals also employed humanist chaplains.

The government continued to ban the wearing of religious symbols, including headgear, with police uniforms.

The government continued to permit individual schools to decide whether to implement bans on certain types of face-covering religious clothing, such as burqas or niqabs.

Many non-Christian religious and life-stance organizations, such as the Norwegian Humanist Association, continued their objections to the specific reference to “Christian Knowledge” in the title of the mandatory school course on religion, stating it promoted Christianity over other beliefs.

The Ministry of Education continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech. Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. High school curricula included material on the deportation and killing of Jewish citizens from 1942 to 1945. The government continued to fund a DMT program where young Jews talked to high school students about Judaism and being a Jew in the country. The government stated it would continue to fund the program through the national action plan to counter anti-Semitism.

Schools continued to support 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. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), approximately 15-20,000 students participated each year.

The Church of Norway received more than two billion NOK ($244 million) in funding from the government. The government and the Church continued to review the status of pension and other benefits for Church employees who no longer worked for the state. The MOC stated the grant to the Church would continue at a high level after the removal of its employees from the state payroll. The government provided other registered religious and life-stance organizations approximately 344 million NOK ($42 million). Some representatives from these groups, including the Norwegian Humanist Association, said the size of the grant to the Church of Norway was not based solely on the size of membership and that the Church’s privileged relationship with the state continued after the January 1 legal separation.

The Catholic Church’s civil suit alleging the government underpaid the subsidy it owed the Church based on its membership remained pending. The District Court in Oslo ruled against the Church in January, but the Church appealed the decision to the Borgarting Court of Appeal. In December the district court also found the Catholic Archdiocese of Oslo liable for financial fraud, stemming from a government investigation in 2016 that stated the Church had inflated its membership numbers, and fined it NOK 2 million ($244,000).

Consistent with previous years, the MOC provided 12 million NOK ($1.5 million) to religious umbrella organizations, such as the Christian Council of Norway and the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL), among others, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life-stance organizations. Groups outside these umbrella organizations also applied to the ministry for funding for specific events and programs to support interreligious dialogue.

In October the government withdrew its longstanding support to the IRN, due, it said, largely to a loss of confidence in the organization. Minister of Culture Linda Helleland said in a press release that the ministry had “serious doubt that the IRN is capable of fulfilling its role as a bridge-builder and contributing to cooperation and a strengthening of dialogue, for which there is a great need.” The withdrawal of funding followed a series of media reports citing dysfunction in the organization, including the 2016 resignation of the entire IRN board in a leadership dispute; the controversial hiring in March of an outspoken advocate for the full-face veil as a communications officer; and criticism from dialogue partners that the IRN was not fully engaged in interfaith dialogue efforts.

The government proposed a new law governing religious life in the country, which was open for public comment until the end of the year and was scheduled for debate in parliament in 2018. For the first time, the law would require all religious as well as life-stance groups to have at least 500 members to be eligible for government funding. The existing law applied the requirement only to life-stance groups. The MOC said the law could potentially affect approximately one quarter of religious groups in the country. The proposed law would codify the legal status and funding support structures for the Church of Norway and other religious groups, following the formal separation of the Church of Norway from the government at the beginning of the year. The Church of Norway would retain financial support from the government under the proposed law, including for maintaining historic church buildings and certain administrative expenses. Religious communities and those who worked on interreligious dialogue complained the proposed law was developed without a preceding white paper on religion and life-stance policies. A white paper would normally present the policy goals behind new legislation. Some religious and life-stance communities, such as the Norwegian Humanist Association, said the new law provided preferential financial treatment for the Church of Norway.

The government continued to implement its action plan to counter anti-Semitism in society. The plan emphasized data collection, training and education programs in schools, research on anti-Semitism and Jewish life in the country, and efforts to safeguard Jewish culture. Under the plan, police must work toward including anti-Semitism as a separate category of hate crime in police statistics. The Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HC), an independent research and educational center, and the DMT leadership said the plan could have gone further, but they were generally positive about it, since it allocated resources to education about anti-Semitism in society and focused attention on efforts to counter it.

The LDO stated the amended antidiscrimination law should make identifying discrimination easier by consolidating several antidiscrimination statutes.

In May the Progress Party, the junior member in the governing coalition, expressed its support at a party convention for a law banning ritual circumcision of children under the age of 16. Domestic and international Jewish leaders spoke out against it, and the government stated it would not pursue the issue.

In response to the effective ban on the production of most kosher and halal meat in the country by the law on animal slaughter, the Ministry of Agriculture continued to waive import duties and provide guidance on import procedures to both the Jewish and Muslim communities.

The government continued to conduct workshops and other intervention programs targeting practitioners working with groups at risk for radicalization, including religious minority groups. The MOJ hosted an annual national conference against radicalization, which included high-level political participation.

The government is a member of the IHRA.

According to police and NGO reports and observations, religiously motivated hate speech, particularly online, remained prevalent. In 2016, the latest year for which data were available, police reported 97 religiously motivated hate crimes throughout the country, up from 79 the previous year. Police in Oslo reported 88 percent of the 24 religiously motivated hate crimes in 2016 in that district targeted Muslims, a similar percentage to the previous year. The overall number of recorded religiously motivated hate crimes in 2016 in Oslo was down 40 percent from the 40 incidents the previous year. Assault and legally impermissible hate speech constituted the bulk of what the government characterized as religiously motivated crimes. Police statistics did not cite specific examples of these crimes.

The LDO, as well as NGOs such as FRI – Association for Gender and Sexual Diversity, encouraged the government to improve consistency of data collection and reporting of hate crimes, including religiously motivated hate crimes, for police districts outside of Oslo. Police training continued, and the MOJ said it expected all police districts to have competency in investigating hate crimes by the end of the year. Beginning with hate crimes committed in 2017, statistics were to include information on cases prosecuted and final convictions.

As part of its action plan to combat anti-Semitism, the government conducted a national survey, which it said it would repeat every five years, of attitudes in the population towards Jews and other minorities. The survey results were published in December and found that while “stereotypical [prejudicial] views about Jews still prevail in Norwegian society in 2017…they are less prevalent than in 2011.” The survey concluded that the proportion of the country’s population with marked prejudices against Jews and Muslims was 8.3 percent and 34.1 percent, respectively. It concluded that attitudes toward Jews in the country were influenced by attitudes towards Israel. The survey also found that negative stereotypes of Muslims were widespread in society. It stated that 14 percent of Muslims and 11 percent of Jews had been directly subjected to harassment.

In 2016, the most recent year for which data were available, the LDO received nine complaints in which it concluded discrimination based on religion had taken place, compared with three cases in the previous year. The LDO did not indicate if these cases resulted in legal action. The LDO offered guidance on rights and the legal framework regarding religious discrimination in response to 85 additional inquiries.

The NGOs Antiracist Center and Organization Against Public Discrimination again stated members of ethnic minorities (many of whom were Muslim) experienced discrimination and that levels of anti-Islamic sentiment continued to increase, especially on social media platforms. Neither NGO cited examples.

In July media reported widespread ridicule of members of the nationalist group Fatherland First, after it posted numerous critical comments, such as “Islam is and always will be a curse,” over a photo on the group’s Facebook page. Self-described “troll” Johan Slattavik posted the photo, which members thought showed Muslims in burqas but was actually of empty bus seats, with the comment, “What do you think of this?” He said he did it “as a joke” and to “highlight the difference between legitimate criticism of immigration and blind racism.” The head of the Antiracist Center commented that people “see what they want to see – and what these people want to see are dangerous Muslims.”

The DMT again expressed concern about what it viewed as continued tolerance for anti-Semitic expression, primarily online, but provided no examples. Members of the Jewish community also reported experiencing discrimination but preferred not to cite specific cases. The DMT expressed concern over a march in Kristiansand in July of 50 self-proclaimed neo-Nazis from the group The Nordic Resistance Movement. Authorities had denied a permit for a march by the group in Fredrikstad, but police in Kristiansand allowed it to proceed without a permit when the group marched there without first informing the police. Individuals held a countermarch in Trondheim on the same day.

Dagbladet, a national daily newspaper, published in May a satirical cartoon equating Jewish and Muslim supporters of nonmedical circumcision with mentally unstable pedophiles. President of the Conference of European Rabbis Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt urged authorities to take action against Dagbladet, calling the cartoon offensive and “a blatant attack on religious freedom.” The cartoon was part of the newspaper’s coverage of the Progress Party’s support for a ban on ritual circumcision, a ban Dagbladet did not support. The President of the DMT, Ervin Kohn, said the cartoon was offensive and not a positive contribution to the circumcision debate, but that it was not out of line or anti-Semitic.

The HC continued to conduct programs against anti-Semitism with financial support from the government. For example, the HC provided instructional materials it developed on tolerance of religious diversity to high schools nationwide. It also screened materials used in public schools for anti-Semitic content.

In March Muslim organizations condemned the IRN’s appointment of a communications officer who wore a full-face veil, and several groups issued a joint press release saying they lacked confidence in the organization. Minister of Culture Helleland and Muslim Member of Parliament Abid Raja also criticized the appointment. Several mosques formally pulled out of IRN in September and October, citing a lack of trust and management issues as the main reasons for their withdrawal. Until the mosque withdrawals, IRN, the only Muslim umbrella organization in the country, represented approximately 42 congregations with 70,000 members, almost half of the total Muslim population. In late October newspapers reported that five of the mosques that had pulled out of IRN had established a new organization called the Muslim Dialogue Network Norway. In addition, in October IRN suspended its membership in the STL for a period of six months; some media outlets speculated STL would have otherwise suspended the group.

In October Nortura, one of the country’s largest meat producers, announced it would not renew the halal agreement with IRN (under which IRN certified some Nortura meat as halal) when it expired at the end of 2018. In its announcement, Nortura cited a lack of trust in IRN from the government, the Muslim community, and society as the determining factor for its decision not to renew the contract.

U.S. embassy staff met with officials from the MOC who worked on religious issues. The discussions centered on the proposed new religion law that was undergoing public review, public financing for faith and life-stance organizations, and financial preferences for the Church of Norway. Embassy staff also discussed the ministry’s role in supporting religious umbrella organizations and activities to promote interreligious dialogue, in addition to asking about the government’s position on public debates on the banning of circumcision. Embassy representatives discussed religiously motivated hate speech with the MOJ.

The Charge d’Affaires visited the ICC, a major mosque in Oslo, to engage in discussion with Muslim community representatives on religious freedom, integration of minority groups, and religious tolerance.

The Charge d’Affaires hosted a roundtable breakfast with government policy makers, researchers, and advocates from civil society to discuss the challenges and opportunities related to promoting religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities.

Embassy staff engaged religious and civil society groups to discuss their efforts to promote religious tolerance in the country, including STL, ICC, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, and Muslim congregation Minhaj-ul-Quran Norway.

2017 Report on International Religious Freedom: Norway
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