eurel     Données sociologiques et juridiques sur la religion en Europe et au-delà


  • December 2017 : Court cases against the Catholic Church concerning membership fraud

Over the course of 2017, Oslo District Court (the court of first instance) heard two separate cases on membership registration in the Catholic Diocese of Oslo. In both cases, the Diocese was charged with membership fraud. The diocese reported as members a large number of individuals who had never registered with the Diocese as members of the Church to the authorities. It received, thus, an inflated rate of per capita financial compensation. In the period from 2011 to 2014, the Diocese, which had experienced a rapid growth in congregants and participants in their services following an influx of labor migrants from Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries, estimated their membership by looking up “Catholic-sounding” surnames in the phone book.

In the first court case, the Diocese sued the state after receiving a claim of back payments of approximate NOK 40 million (EUR 4 mill), arguing that their “phone book practice” was comparable to that of the Nordic churches, all of which receive financial compensation in Norway based on the national registry, and not on specific membership, and that the claim of back payments, therefore, constituted religious discrimination. The Diocese lost the case, but lodged an appeal, and the case is currently pending before the Borgarting Court of Appeal.

In the second court case, the former head of finances in the Diocese and the Diocese itself were charged with gross negligence after the Diocese refused to pay a fine of NOK 1 million for their membership practice. While the head of finances was acquitted, the Diocese was convicted, and charged with a fine of NOK 2 million. The Diocese has still not decided whether it will be lodging an appeal.

  • December 2017 : Withdrawal of State Support to the Islamic Council of Norway

Following a protracted period of turbulence, infighting and unrest within the Islamic Council of Norway, an umbrella organization founded to act as a uniting organization to further the interest of Muslims in Norway, the Minister of Culture decided to cancel the annual state support to the organization, opening up the remainder of the funding for 2017 to other initiatives that can enhance further competence and knowledge on religious dialogue in Norwegian society. Numerous organizations have applied for the support, including Muslim Dialogue Network, a recently-started organization uniting the five largest mosque communities in Norway, who collectively cancelled their membership in the Islamic Council earlier in 2017.

  • September 2017 : New draft law on the Church of Norway and other religious and life stance communities

In September 2017, the Government announced a draft legislation for the regulation of the Church of Norway and the financing of other religious and life stance communities. The new law will replace the Act on Faith Communities (1969), the Act Relating to Allocations to Religious Communities (1981) and the Church Act (1996), and represents the most significant legal change following the 2012 constitutional amendments altering the relationship between church and state.

In line with the new § 16 of the Constitution, the draft law provides a set of regulations on the “system” of the Church of Norway, and a set of regulations for the allotment of state support to other religious and life stance communities. Additionally, the draft law introduces a set of new criteria for state support, including a minimum of 500 members, an age limit of 15 for support-generating members and the possibility to withdraw support for communities that break the law, encourage harmful child rearing or receive funding from states that do not respect the freedom of religion or belief. Additionally, the law specifies conditions for exclusive support to the Church of Norway, which is conditional on expenses that maintain church buildings dating from before 1900, expenses made for public services and expenses that are specifically tied to the status of the Church of Norway as the “established” church of the state.

The draft law is subject to a public hearing, before the Ministry of Culture presents a revised version to parliament in 2018. Parliamentary consideration is likely to be postponed until the Ministry finalizes its much awaited white paper on religious policy.

  • June 2017 : Restrictions on the full face veil

For several years, the question of prohibiting the niqab, the Muslim full face veil, has been percolating in the Norwegian public debate. Following the S.A.S. v. France decision of the European Court of Human Rights (2014) (see Europe > 2014 Current debates), where the French ban on wearing the niqab in public was upheld, the debate briefly reawakened, but failed to gain traction. After scattered incidents where students at universities and colleges have been dismissed for their use of the garment, the debate has become more entrenched, leading to discussions of the ban in parliament in 2015 and to an increasing debate in the fall of 2016, as political parties position themselves before the upcoming parliamentary election in 2017. As of September 2016, statements by leaders of the major political parties on the need to restrict the use of the niqab in educational institutions seem to indicate a parliamentary majority in favor of a limited ban.

In June of 2017, the Government presented a draft bill which would prohibit the full face veil for employees, pupils and students in all educational institutions, public or private, from kindergarten and up to universities. While there have been some discussions on the issue, particularly regarding higher education and in terms of sanctions, the bill is likely to be adopted with a clear majority.

  • March 2017 : Restrictions on religious symbols in the workplace

In March, following a long and protracted conflict between the municipal authorities in Stavanger and the board at Blidensol, a privately-run healthcare facility, on the legality of a dress code banning the Islamic veil among staff, the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found in favor of the municipality, pronouncing the incompatibility between the dress code and the Anti-Discrimination laws (see Equality and Non-Discrimination).
While this local conflict is still unresolved, the initiative to prohibit the veil as part of a work uniform, together with the recent decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Case C-157/15 (Samira Achbita v. G4S Secure Solutuions NV), which found that the prohibition of the Islamic veil as part of the uniform of a security company did not constitute direct discrimination, have led to renewed interest in the issue in Norwegian public debate. So far, the most tangible result has been the proposal to ban all “conspicuous religious symbols” among staff in Oslo municipality, a case that is still pending before the City Council.

  • February 2017 : Conscientious objection beyond military service

Since 2013, the limits of conscientious objections, in particular for health workers, has been an ongoing concern in politics and the public debate. While the majority of the debate has circled around the rights of medical doctors to refuse to refer women to hospitals for abortion, the recently adopted law on the ritual circumcision of baby boys has also sparked a sharp rise in conscientious objections by surgeons. Recently, the debate has taken an unexpected turn, as a nursing student asked to be exempt from serving pork during her practice placement, a request that was turned down and met with wide disapproval.

To better clarify the limits of the conscientious objector status, a government-appointed commission submitted its recommendations in September, 2016. The commission stressed the need to preserve objector status only for deeply held convictions, and recommended a mixed approach between legally established rights to exemption and locally adapted solutions.

In February of 2017, a doctor lost her case against the State in Aust-Telemark District Court. She was fired for her refusal to provide contraceptive coils to her patients on the basis of her religious convictions. Her claim was considered subordinate to that of the right of women to full and unbridled access to contraceptives. The doctor has filed an appeal, which will be heard by Agder Appeals Court in October.

  • January 2017 : Separation of Church and State

On January 1st, 2017, the Church of Norway gained its own legal personality for the first time since the Reformation was introduced to Norway through the Church Ordinance of 1537. The shift is significant, turning the responsibilities and duties of formerly state-employed clergy over to the Church, whose principal entity will be the General Synod. While the shift represents a new chapter in Norwegian state-church relations, significant challenges remain, not least relating to the specific scope of the guarantee in §16 of the amended constitution, which provides that the Church of Norway will remain the established church of Norway. Another controversial issue in the wake of the separation is the financial support of other religious communities, ranging from the precise sum to be granted, to the conditions for support.

  • January 2017 : Circumcision of baby boys

During the buildup to the general election in September, several political parties have discussed the question of a ban on the circumcision of baby boys, a procedure that was subject to heated debate a few years back, leading to the adoption of the Act on Ritual Circumcision of Baby Boys in 2014, in order to bring the procedure into the conventional health system (see more under Children and Parents). While the projected number of 2000 circumcisions per year based on the proportion of Muslims and Jews in the population has proven greatly exaggerated, the law has generated a considerable number of conscientious objections from doctors who refuse to perform the procedure. Although only the right-wing Progress Party, currently part of the ruling coalition, has officially called for a ban on the procedure, several other parties have discussed similar regulations.

D 18 décembre 2017    AHelge Årsheim

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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