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Norway and Article 18
A Triangle of Partnership and Solidarity

"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

In my article I will write about:

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government respects this right in practice. The state church is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, which is financially supported by the state, and to which 93 % of the population nominally belongs to. In addition to this, there are other smaller religious societies. But 78 % of the Norwegian population believe in God or higher powers one way or another.

Christianity is a part of the Norwegian culture: Christian values and standards stamp the laws and rules. Most of the kindergartens and primary schools have a Christian objective, and since the religion is so widespread the Norwegian people is affected by Christianity in several ways.

Religious society can be all-embracing and more or less tolerant and open. The central matter to most people is that the congregation do believe in the same variant of Christianity, which keeps the members together in one religious fellowship. The religion gives the members a common identity based on mutual values and standards.

If a person wants to change his religion he first of all have to resign himself from the state church, and then convert into the new religion. If the person is under 15 years old his parents have to do this, otherwise he is free to choose his religion on his own.

How the religious instruction are at school.

Previously, when you started primary school a new subject called Christianity was part of your timetable. This subject taught you about the religion itself and the history behind it. You had to learn hymns, and prayers by heart. Only a small part of the subject taught you about other religions. If a person had another religion he had to be a part of the training, but he had the right to refuse to participate in any religious activities. When you reached the eighth grade you got the choice to continue with Christianity or to refuse from this subject and have denominational education instead where you learned more about other religions.

There has been a lot of discussions around this particular theme, because it was realized that the children didn't have any choice. They didn't learn much about other religions and were in a way forced to believe in the Christian God. Therefore a new reform was launched, called reform 97.

This reform contained new rules, and a new subject called 'religious knowledge and denominational education' (translated from Norwegian) replaced the traditional subject of Christianity.

What the law says about the new subject.

The education of 'religious knowledge and denominational education' shall :

'Religious knowledge and denominational education' is an ordinary school subject which is compulsory to all pupils. The teaching shall not be preaching.
The pupils can refuse some part of the subject, for example participation in religious activities. If the pupils are under 15 years old the parents have to write an agreement on this, otherwise he does it himself.

The laws.

Article 100.
There shall be liberty of the press. No person may be punished for any writing, whatever its contents, which he has caused to be printed or published, unless he wilfully and manifestly has either himself shown or incited others to disobedience to the laws, contempt of religion, morality or the constitutional powers, or resistance to their orders, or has made false and defamatory accusations against anyone. Everyone shall be free to speak his mind frankly on the administration of the state and on any other subject whatsoever.

Penal code 142
The person that insults or hurts another persons feelings, offends his religion or defames him in any way will be punished with penance, or be in prison until six months.
No one has been punished in accordance to this law since 1912. Gradually the freedom of speech has triumphed over the fundimental Christian needs to protect their opinions and attitudes against criticism.

Penal code 247
The person that in word or acting behaves in a way that is meant to hurt another persons good name and reputation, or to expose him for hate, or loss of his employment will be punished with penance, or be in prison until one year.

The conclusion may be that apart from a certain dubious practice regarding religious education in primary/lower secondary school, Article #18 of the Declaration of Human Rights is pretty well implemented in Norway.

Trine Langseth

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