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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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 have spoken up for a division of the state-church relationship. However, there have been no significant developments in this debate during the period covered by this report.

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.

Citizens are considered members of the state church unless they explicitly associate themselves with another denomination; 93 percent of the population nominally belong to it. However, actual church attendance is considered to be rather low. Other denominations operate freely.

In 1998 there were a total of 233,264 persons registered in religious communities outside the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, of a total population of approximately 4.5 million. An additional 27,000 persons belong to unregistered religious communities.

The major registered religions and religious groups are: Pentecostal congregations (43,768 members); Islam (40,780 members); Roman Catholic Church (37,894 members); Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Norway (20,804 members); Jehovah's Witnesses (15,113 members); Methodist Church of Norway (13,518 members); Norwegian Baptist Union (10,503 members); Church of Norway Mission Covenants (8,311 members); and the Buddhist Federation (6,324 members). Other groups include Orthodox Jews, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, and Hindus. In addition, there is one main organization for the non-religious or atheists--the Norwegian Humanist Association. The Association has 61,000 registered adult members and 10 to 12,000 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. Foreign religious workers from countries from whose citizens Norway requires visas 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.

The Government promotes interfaith understanding by providing funding to the Cooperation Council for Faith and Secular Society (see Section II). The Government also pledged to provide additional funds for the operation of the Office of the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Intolerance. As Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during the period covered by this report, the Government promoted activities to improve religious tolerance through the OSCE.

In October 1995, the Storting (Parliament) passed a law introducing the subject "Religious Knowledge and Education in Ethics" in the Norwegian school system. The law has been contested since its passage by several religious and secular groups, such as orthodox Muslims and atheists. As of the end of the period covered by this report, the law had been implemented in all public schools. State religion and secular humanism are taught in the schools, and students may be exempted from specific religious acts, like prayers or church services, but are not allowed to forego instruction in the subject as a whole. Two court cases challenging the required course are currently before the courts. Workers belonging to minority denominations are allowed leave for their religious beliefs.

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 respect Christian beliefs and principles.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

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

Section II. Societal Attitudes

In August 1998, the Cooperation Council for Faith and Secular Society organized a conference on religious freedom with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The conference urged greater international dedication to the principles of freedom of religion and issued the Oslo Declaration on Freedom of Religion and Belief. The Cooperation Council was established in 1996 and consists of the state church and other religious communities, including the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and the secular humanist communities. At the 1998 conference, the Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religious Beliefs was formed in order to facilitate closer coordination and international cooperation.

The Ecumenical Council of Christian Communities has promoted actively cooperation within the Christian community. There also has been cooperation between the various religious communities on human rights issues in recent 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 III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses worldwide religious freedom issues with government officials, particularly during the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Requests to the Embassy from official and nonofficial Norwegians for materials on religious freedom issues increased during the period covered by this report, a sign of growing interest in such issues as religious persecution, the church-state relationship, and the balance between freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 10-09-1999