The constitution states all individuals shall have the right to free exercise of 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,” national values “will remain our Christian and humanistic heritage,” and the Church of Norway shall remain the country’s established church and be supported by the state. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion. Any person older than age 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 their children once they reach the age of seven and give those views priority once the children reach the age 12.
The penal code specifies penalties, including a fine or imprisonment for up to six months, for discrimination based on religion or expressions of disrespect for religious beliefs or members of religious groups.
By law, the government provides direct financial support to the Church of Norway through an annual block grant that covers the cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. Contrary to prior years, municipal governments phased out most support to individual Church of Norway congregations, although they still provide funding for the Church and occasionally other religious groups, to maintain facilities of shared religious responsibility, such as municipal cemeteries (which are open to the general public) and preserve public parks, and historical churches, cathedrals, and other buildings of cultural value.
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.
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, and the processes for amending statutes and dissolution. A group registers nationally only once in one county but reports its national tally of members annually. If a religious group does not register, it does not receive financial support from the government, but there are no restrictions on its activities. Most religious organizations and life stance communities register and receive government funding. By law, life stance communities, but not religious groups, must have a minimum of 500 members to qualify for government funding. Under the law, churches may not include children younger than age 15 as registered members.
Public schools include a mandatory course on Christian Knowledge and Religious and Ethical Information (CKREE) for grades one through 10. State-employed instructors teach the CKREE course, 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 Church of Norway church. At their parents’ request, children may opt out of 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 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 law bans clothing that mostly or fully covers the face at educational institutions. The prohibition applies to students and teachers wearing burqas or niqabs in schools and day-care centers.
Passport regulations allow applicants to wear religious headwear in passport photographs, as long as the applicants’ face and ears are visible.
Police are responsible for investigating criminal cases of discrimination, including those involving religion, such as hate crimes. The government-funded but independent Equality and Anti-discrimination Ombudsman reviews noncriminal discrimination and harassment cases, including those involving religion.
Individuals may apply for a full exemption from the required registration for a year of military service for religious reasons 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.
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.
In June the government presented to parliament a revised draft law governing religious life, which has been under debate since 2017. The government revised the draft with significant input from the Church of Norway and other religious and life stance communities. The previous version would have required religious groups, not just life stance groups, to have at least 500 registered members to be eligible to receive government funding. The revised draft would establish the threshold for government funding eligibility at 50 members for all religious and life stance groups and count children younger than 15 as members.
Under the terms of the revised draft, the government would provide the Church of Norway an annual grant based on its number of members, identical to the formula used for all other registered religious and life stance organizations. The annual per capita grant would be in lieu of a block grant paying the full cost of salaries, benefits, and pension plans of Church employees. The government would also provide additional funding to the Church of Norway for maintenance of cemeteries and religious buildings. In addition, the draft law would set limits on policies and restrictions the government could impose on a religious organization as a condition to receiving state funding. The Norwegian Humanist Association and the Council for Religious and Life Stance Communities (STL) stated these changes would make it easier for these groups to qualify for government funding and addressed the concerns of their members, which viewed the previous version of the law as possibly limiting their autonomy, as well as providing preferential financial treatment to the Church of Norway.
Parliament did not vote on the law by year’s end, but according to the MCF and STL, the proposed legislation had broad support, and parliament would likely enact it in 2020.
In March the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal filed by the Catholic Church to overturn rulings by the Borgarting Court of Appeal and the Oslo District Court that stated the Catholic Church had received more government funds than it was entitled to because it had inflated the numbers of its membership rolls. As a result, the court ordered the Catholic Church to refund the government 40 million kroner ($4.6 million), payable over a five-year period.
The government continued to implement its action plan to counter anti-Semitism, funding projects carried out by government and academic institutions and the Mosaic Community (DMT), the country’s principal Jewish organization. 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 and space. For example, the government funded the Dembra program at the Holocaust Center, an independent research and educational center associated with the University of Oslo, which developed a series of online educational resources to assist schools in creating programs and plans for teaching about and addressing anti-Semitism. Also under the plan, police authorities continued to revise their training curriculum to improve the reporting, processing, and investigation of religiously based hate crimes and continued to collect statistics on hate crimes, including on anti-Semitic incidents.
In September, describing the action plan against anti-Semitism as a success, the government announced it would renew the plan for another five-year period commencing in 2021. Leading NGOs involved in religious freedom such as the STL, the Center against Racism, and Amnesty International Norway endorsed the government’s decision to extend the plan, as did Ervin Kohn, the leader of the DMT. One of the Holocaust Center’s lead researchers said the plan’s renewal was evidence of its success.
In August, following a shooting at an Islamic center in the Oslo suburb of Baerum, the government announced it would accelerate implementation of a similar plan to counter anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment, to launch in 2020. The Ministry of Education and Research indicated that many of the grants and programs designed to address anti-Semitism and hate speech would serve as models for developing components in the action plan against anti-Muslim sentiment. Media reports cited broad support for both action plans across the political spectrum.
The government continued implementation of a separate strategy to combat hate speech. The strategy contained elements that addressed anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate speech using educational programs, provided support to religious and civil society groups engaged in promoting religious tolerance, expanded efforts to encourage reports of hate crimes by victims, and called for more focused legal efforts to investigate and prosecute hate crimes.
The police continued to prohibit officers from wearing religious symbols, including religious headwear, with police uniforms. Other uniformed organizations allowed the use of religious headwear. The military provided some religious headwear that conformed to military dress regulations.
The United Sikhs of Norway and Young Sikhs again objected to passport regulations which allow the use of religious headwear in passport photographs but require applicants’ ears to be visible. According to government officials, the requirement allowed for enhanced accuracy of facial recognition software and manual photographic examination. The Sikh representatives stated showing the ears was unnecessary and offered only a negligible improvement in facial recognition. They also stated, except for France, no other European or North American nation set this requirement for religious minorities.
In January the United Sikhs and the Young Sikhs challenged the photograph requirement at the UN Human Rights Committee in a case involving the denial of a passport renewal application of a Sikh man who refused to comply with the regulation. In a private meeting with Prime Minister Erna Solberg, representatives of the United Sikhs pressed for a change in the regulation and later submitted a written proposal to the government to do so. Sikh representatives described the meeting as “positive.” At year’s end, the government was still reviewing the proposal, and the photograph requirement remained in place.
Christian, Muslim, and humanist chaplains served as officers in the military. Religious and humanist groups provided chaplains at their own expense in hospitals and prisons.
In July a satirical website operated by the government-funded National Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) published an anti-Semitic cartoon with a derogatory caricature of an Orthodox Jewish man playing Scrabble with another man who had constructed the word jodesvin (Jewish swine) with his tiles. After widespread criticism from the Jewish community and organizations such as the STL and the Center against Racism, NRK removed the cartoon from its website and issued a public apology.
In March, after a criminal investigation, Director of the Norwegian Prosecuting Authority Tor Aksel Busch said the Prosecuting Authority would not prosecute Norwegian rapper Kaveh Kholardi, against whom several Jewish organizations filed criminal complaints in 2018 for using the phrase “[expletive] Jews” during a concert. Busch said the phrase in question could be considered “legitimate criticism” of Israeli policies. Critics responded that during the incident, Kholardi did not mention particular policies or actions or use the words “Israel” or “Israeli.” The group With Israel for Peace, one of the original complainants against Kholardi, said Busch’s decision not to prosecute was “alarming because [he] finds ambiguity where there is none.”
NGOs and religious communities worked with police and other government agencies to facilitate more reporting of hate crimes and cooperation on public education measures to counter discrimination and build trust between government agencies and religious and ethnic minority communities subject to discrimination.
The Oslo Synagogue, in coordination with the DMT, worked with the National Police to coordinate security, funded by the Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, for the synagogue and Jewish heritage sites and acted as an intermediary between the Jewish community and police to facilitate timely reporting and monitoring of hate crimes.
The Muslim Dialogue Network (MDN) worked with the National Police to provide outreach and education to encourage Muslims, some of whom were members of immigrant communities that MDN said distrusted law enforcement, to report discrimination and hate crimes to authorities. Police and security services provided additional protection for mosques following the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand in March. Authorities increased security further after the shooting at the Islamic center in Baerum in August.
The Center against Racism continued to provide training and advisory services to police on detecting, investigating, and prosecuting both racial and religiously motivated hate crimes. Police continued to assign personnel to support and coordinate these efforts, including providing resources to maintain hate crime investigators in each of the country’s 12 police districts.
The National Criminal Investigation Service continued to maintain a website for the public to contact police regarding hate crimes and hate speech, including religiously motivated incidents.
The national CKREE curriculum continued to include a component on Judaism and teaching about the Holocaust. The Ministry of Education and Research completed a review of the curriculum during the year and announced that Holocaust education would remain. In addition, the ministry continued grants for school programs that raised awareness about anti-Semitism and hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech. The government also continued to fund a Jewish life module through which young Jews engaged with high school students about Judaism and being Jewish in the country. In many instances, these grants were provided as part of the government’s action plan against anti-Semitism.
Schools nationwide observed Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. The government and local schools continued to support extracurricular programs that took secondary school students to Nazi concentration camps and other sites to educate them about the Holocaust. The trips, which generally lasted three to five days, were primarily arranged by two Norwegian NGOs – Hvite Busser (White Buses) and Aktive Fredreiser (Travel For Peace). The government allocated 15 million kroner ($1.7 million) to support these efforts, and the schools facilitated fundraising activities among the students as well. According to the NGOs involved, approximately 15,000 Norwegian students per year participated in these programs.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food continued to waive import duties on halal and kosher meat and provided guidance on import procedures to both the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Beginning in January, the government shifted responsibility for religious affairs and the funding of religious institutions from the Ministry of Culture to the MCF. According to the STL and the MCF, the transfer had a negligible impact on day-to-day administration of religious affairs, since the civil servants assigned to this portfolio simply moved from one organization to another.
State support to religious and life stance organizations from both the national and municipal governments totaled approximately six billion kroner ($683 million) during the year. The government provided approximately 2.5 billion kroner ($285 million) to the Church of Norway for salaries and operating expenses during the year, including for pensions and benefits of church employees and clergy. The MCF stated the grant to the Church would continue at a high level in order to cover the costs of Church employees and retirees after the removal of those employees from the state payroll following the Church’s separation from the government in 2017. The government provided other registered religious and life stance organizations approximately 344 million kroner ($39.2 million) in total or 1,300 kroner ($150) per registered member. The Church of Jesus Christ continued to be the only major religious community choosing to decline government funding as a matter of policy. Some representatives from these groups, including the STL and Norwegian Humanist Association, stated the size of the grant to the Church of Norway was not only based on the size of its membership, and that the Church’s privileged relationship with the state continued. The criticism particularly concerned continued state and municipal funding for maintenance of Church property such as church buildings and cemeteries, which other religious communities have to fund on their own.
Consistent with previous years, the MCF provided two million kroner ($228,000) to religious umbrella organizations such as the Christian Council of Norway (500,000 kroner [$56,900]), MDN (500,000 kroner [$56,900]), and STL (one million kroner [$114,000]), among others, to promote dialogue and tolerance among religious and life stance organizations.
The government continued to fund workshops and other intervention programs targeting practitioners working with groups that included members of religious minorities to promote their economic and social integration into society. Efforts focused on youth education and engaging local community stakeholders. For example, the government provided financial support to the Forum for Integration and Dialogue, an NGO. Founded by the Muslim Union, this organization worked to integrate youth from different ethnic and religious backgrounds and encourage positive relationships among diverse groups in Kristiansand, a city in the southern part of the country. The government also funded the program for Democratic Preparedness Against Racism, Anti-Semitism, and Undemocratic Attitudes, which provided speakers, resources, and training to teachers working with at-risk youth to advance these objectives.
The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.