Norwegian Christians critical of governments actions against Jehovah's Witnesses
The Norwegian government is withdrawing the Jehovah's Witnesses' registration as a religious community amidst many critiques from Christian circles.
The reason for the loss of registration is the shunning practice of the Jehovah's Witnesses. According to the Norwegian State Administrator, the exclusion practice is against the law. "We believe the religious community violates the members' right to free expression. We believe this violates the members' right to freedom of religion. We also believe that they violate children's rights by allowing the exclusion of baptised minors and encouraging members to socially isolate children who do not follow the religious community's rules." This reports the Norwegian Christian daily Vårt Land.
The loss of registration does not forbid Jehovah's Witnesses from practising their religion. However, they can no longer make claims for government subsidies. It also becomes impossible to seal marriages. "They are still free to practice their religion and their activities regardless of public registration as the Religious Communities Act is essentially a subsidy act", the State Administrator argues.
Yet, a lot of Christians are critical of the government's actions. According to Vebjørn Selbekk, editor-in-chief of the Norwegian Christian daily Dagen, the health of Norwegian democracy is weakened when the state uses its means of power to punish a religious community because of religious teachings and practices.
Selbekk writes in a commentary that the Jehovah's Witnesses are far from him. And he is also critical towards the organisation's exclusion practice. "But still: Someone has to defend the friendless. Jehovah's Witnesses are perhaps the most despised of the approximately 700 religious communities we have in Norway. Punishing them has no political consequences. You don't risk losing a single vote because Jehovah's Witnesses don't even use the right to vote."
And that is precisely why one should be extra careful when using the means of the power of society against such a group, argues Selbekk. "When the great majority applauds and rejoices that a religious community loses its rights, there is a special reason to be vigilant. And then the question is, who will be next?"
Selbekk also points to the people in favour of these. The State Administrator is Svarstad Haugland, a former KrF (Christian Democrats) leader. And it was Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, a KrF leader, who originally asked the State Administrator to consider removing state support from Jehovah's Witnesses. "A leader of a Christian party asks a former leader of the same Christian party to attack a non-Christian religious community. It doesn't sound very good, to put it mildly."
Matter of time
The Catholic priest Torbjørn Olsen is also critical of the government's actions. In an op-ed in Dagen, he argues that the decision of the State Administrator narrows down the freedom of religion in Norway. He fears that more religious communities might face the consequences. "If the registration refusal stands, it may soon only be a matter of time before a number of other communities with "incorrect" positions are separated."
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