International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is the state church, enjoys some benefits not available to other faiths.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. Muslims continued to encounter some difficulties in obtaining local permission to build mosques.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of approximately 150,000 square miles, and its population is approximately 4.5 million. Citizens are considered to be members of the state church unless they explicitly associate themselves with another denomination; 86 percent of the population nominally belong to the state church. However, actual church attendance is considered to be rather low. Other denominations operate freely.

In 2002 a total of 277,366 persons were registered in religious communities outside the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway. An additional 27,126 persons belong to unregistered communities.

The major registered religions and religious groups are: Islam (68,099 members); Pentecostal congregations (44,441 members); Roman Catholic Church (43,264 members); Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Norway (21,289 members); members of the Jehovah's Witnesses (14,686 members); Methodist Church of Norway (12,766 members); Norwegian Baptist Union (10,288 members); Church of Norway Mission Covenants (8,445 members); and the Buddhist Federation (8,503 members). Other groups include Orthodox Jews, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, and Hindus. In addition, there is one main organization for the nonreligious or atheists, which is the Norwegian Humanist Association. The Association has 69,807 registered adult members and 10,000 children as associate members. Persons cannot register as full members until they reach early adulthood.

Members of registered religious communities outside the state church are concentrated in the Oslo region and the west coast region of the country. The Hordaland, Rogaland, and Vest Agder districts have the highest number of members of religious communities outside the state church. The majority of European and American immigrants are either Christians or nonreligious, the exception being Muslim refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo. Most non-European immigrants practice Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism.

Foreign missionaries and other religious workers operate freely in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway is the state church. It is supported financially by the State, and there is a constitutional requirement that the King and one-half of the Cabinet belong to this church. The relationship between the Church and the State regularly generates discussion. Church officials and some politicians have spoken in favor of a greater separation in the state-church relationship. In March 2002, a Commission, appointed by the National Council of the Church of Norway, presented its report after 4 years work on evaluating the church-state relationship in the country. The report called "The Same Church A New Order" concluded that the strong ties between church and state should be loosened. The Commission recommended that all passages in the Constitution that mention the Church of Norway or the Lutheran belief be amended to reflect the country's multicultural and multi-religious society. During the spring of 2002, all Parish Councils in the Church of Norway commented on the report and discussed the issue extensively. On March 14, the Government appointed an official State-Church Commission to review the future of the relationship. The Commission has its own secretariat and has members from several parts of society, including different church groups and other religions, politicians, legal experts, and the Sami people. The Commission is expected to present its assessment to Parliament at the end of 2005.

A religious community is required to register with the Government only if it desires state support, which is provided to all registered denominations on a proportional basis in accordance with membership.

Foreign religious workers from countries whose citizens the Government requires visas from need to obtain such visas before entering the country. In addition, all foreign religious workers from countries outside the European Union or European Economic Area must apply for work permits. There is no government registration of foreign religious workers beyond the regularly established database of issued work permits.

A 1995 law introduced the subject "Religious Knowledge and Education in Ethics" in the school system. The course covers world religions and philosophy and promotes tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs; however, based on the country's history and the importance of Christianity to society, the course devotes more time to Christianity. All children must attend this mandatory class, and there are no exceptions for children of other faiths; on special grounds students may be exempted from participating in or performing specific religious acts such as church services or prayer, but they may not forgo instruction in the subject as a whole. In 2001 independent education experts evaluated the course and presented a report to Parliament. Based on the report, Parliament concluded that it should be easier for parents to request that their children be exempted from parts of the class. In June 2001, Parliament directed the Ministry of Education to draft a standard form for this purpose, which was sent to all schools with instruction on its implementation. Organizations for atheists as well as Muslim communities have contested the legality of forced religious teaching. The Norwegian Humanist Association contested the teaching of the subject in the courts claiming that it is a breach of freedom of religion and parents' rights to provide religious instruction to their children. In August 2001, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the claims from the Humanist Association. In February 2002, the Humanist Association appealed the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg; the case remained pending at the end of the period covered by this report.

Muslims encountered some difficulties in obtaining local permission to build mosques in areas where they are concentrated. Since 1975 the town council in Drammen has regularly turned down applications to build a mosque.

The Workers' Protection and Working Environment Act permits prospective employers to ask job applicants for positions in private or religious schools, or in day care centers, whether they agree to teach and behave in accordance with the institutions or religion's beliefs and principles.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

A Cooperation Council for Faith and Secular Society consists of the state church and other religious communities, including the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and secular humanist communities. The Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religious Beliefs works to facilitate closer coordination and international cooperation.

The Ecumenical Council of Christian Communities has been active in promoting cooperation within the Christian community. There also has been cooperation between the various religious communities on human rights issues in the past several years. Bilateral dialog between the state church and the Muslim and Jewish communities has generated statements in support of minority rights and human rights.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government, particularly during the annual meeting of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.