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Norway moves closer to defunding Watchtower

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NO OR YES ?: In opposition, Anette Trettebergstuen and the Labor Party made it clear that Jehovah's Witnesses should lose state support. Now the government can not answer what is happening with the state support to the religious community. Photo: Vidar Ruud / Scanpix
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Anette Trettebergstuen (Labor Party) took a hard line against Jehovah’s Witnesses in opposition. In government, the pipe has been given a different sound.

I think the state should say a strong “no” to this, and that we must make stricter demands if they are to receive state support. – Anette Trettebergstuen, Minister of Culture and Gender Equality

Original article published in Norwegian by Sigurd Øfsti on October 29, 2021 under the title Ap mente staten burde si «kraftig nei» til Jehovas vitner – nå er saken i det blå

Translation done by Google Translate

The Labor Party thought the state should say “strong no” to Jehovah’s Witnesses – now the case is in the blue

Anette Trettebergstuen (Labor Party) took a hard line against Jehovah’s Witnesses in opposition. In government, the pipe has been given a different sound.

Nettavisen recently published the article series Sex og skamliv. In the series, we spoke with breakaways from Christian denominations, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Smith’s friends.

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The breakers we have talked to tell about how they experienced that sexuality was linked to shame, and that having sex and exploring normal desires was linked to sin and learning about hell.

You can read the entire series of articles here:

Broke out of strict sex regimes: – Spent over 20 years getting on level ground

Absolute requirement

Two years ago, Trettebergstuen was a parliamentary representative and deputy chair of the Family and Culture Committee in the Storting. She made it clear that she was very critical of the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others.

– In this religious community, and in many others, children and young people grow up and are taught that they can not be who they are. That they must suppress their orientation and that they can not have their human rights safeguarded because they are women, Trettebergstuen told NRK .

She added:

– I think the state should say a strong “no” to this, and that we must make stricter demands if they are to receive state support.

She also emphasized that those who have lived oppressed and so dared to break out of a religious community “deserve that we are on their side”.

She further elaborated:

– Everyone should have faith in what they want, but when the state finances religious communities, the state must also say that gender equality is an absolute requirement to receive support.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been presented with the statements to Trettebergstuen, but have not yet commented on them.

Outrageous

Today, Trettebergstuen is Minister of Culture and Gender Equality. The online newspaper has contacted the Ministry of Culture to get an interview with Trettebergstuen on the topic. We have also sent over the article series Sex and Shame Life . Among other things, we would like to ask whether the Labor Party will now remove its support for Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The ministry has responded by sending over some short quotes from Trettebergstuen. Here they say:

– It is outrageous to read about young people who have become ill and have suicidal thoughts as a result of norms and rules in conservative religious communities. Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right and should be a personal and free choice.

She further states:

– The new Religion and Beliefs Act, passed in 2019, allows for denial or shortening of grants if these communities, or individuals acting on their behalf, commit violence or coercion, make threats, violate children’s rights, violate statutory discrimination prohibitions or in other ways seriously violates the rights and freedoms of others. This must be considered specifically in each individual case, but the government will of course ensure that the legislation is followed up.

She adds:

– It is also important that there is an offer for people who go through difficult religious breaking processes.

Furthermore, reference is made to Minister for Children and Families Kjersti Toppe, who is responsible for the field of faith and philosophy.

The online newspaper has again asked for a proper interview with Trettebergstuen, and asked the following follow-up questions:

– In opposition, you clearly stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses should lose state support. Now you are in government. Do you want to take the initiative to have the support removed now? Or has the Labor Party turned around?

The request for an interview has not been answered, but through the communication unit, Trettebergstuen answers the following question in an email:

– The new Religion and Beliefs Act allows for the denial or shortening of grants to religious communities that violate people’s rights and freedoms. I think it is good that these provisions have been included in the law. It gives the supervisory authority the opportunity to impose sanctions and strengthens the work of controlling the religious communities. My view has not changed. The responsibility for the Religion and Beliefs Act in government lies with the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs, and follow-up of the law is their responsibility.

You can read the entire series of articles on Sex and Shame Life here:

Break out of strict sex regimes: –⁠ Spent over 20 years getting on level ground

The responsible minister will not comment

The online newspaper has contacted the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs for an interview with Minister Kjersti Toppe (Sp). We have sent over the series of articles Sex and Shame Life , and we presented the Labor Party’s previous statements that support for religious communities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses must be removed.

In the email to the ministry, we asked for an interview, and asked:

Is this part of the new government platform? What does the Minister think about this? Will the government remove or change the support of these denominations?

We received an answer from communications consultant Sunniva Christophersen Haugen, who writes:

“The Minister refuses to comment on the matter.”

NO COMMENT: Health policy spokesperson in the Center Party, Kjersti Toppe, will not answer Nettavisen’s questions. 
Photo: Ole Berg-Rusten / Scanpix

The document Hurdalsplattformen which the government has published on its website does not say anything directly about either Jehovah’s Witnesses or Smith’s friends. Under the title “A philosophy-open society with respect for all”, support for religious communities is discussed in the following words:

“Both the financing of, control of and insight into religious communities are important public tasks, and demands must be made on the religious and philosophical communities for democracy, openness and representation without interfering with religious freedom.”

Furthermore, it is mentioned, among other things, that the government will:

«Ensure religious and philosophical communities sustainable financing, but review criteria for support. Collaborate with religious and philosophical communities to strengthen integration, improve gender equality and increase knowledge of Norwegian law in the field of philosophy ».

The online newspaper has asked the ministry how much state support Johova’s witnesses and Smith’s friends receive. For 2021, they refer to the government’s overview of the number of contributing members in religious and philosophical communities. It is stated that the rate per member is NOK 1,310.

With 12,686 members in Jehovah’s Witnesses, the state aid will be NOK 16,618,660 in 2021. Smith’s friends have 8,868 members and with the same calculation will receive NOK 11,617,080 in state aid in 2021.

Not okay at all

The source of help is a voluntary organization that assists people with a background from closed or strict religious environments.

General manager Hilde Langvann says they receive around 500 inquiries a year.

In some Christian communities, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, breaking out may result in expulsion. Otherwise, there may be other reasons why you need a new network.

– Here they get the opportunity to talk to others who have gone through the same thing. It is often very useful to talk to others with similar backgrounds, says Langvann.

She says that many members of the Relief Society, with a background in Jehovah’s Witnesses, are very critical of the state support of the faith community.

– They respond that the Norwegian state should finance a religious community in which they themselves felt violated and controlled. It feels painful that they should receive state support at the same time as they themselves experienced not receiving any help from the public sector. It reinforces the feeling of not being seen and heard, she says.

Langvann also believes that it is a paradox that the Source of Help does not receive state support, while religious communities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses do.

“This is not okay at all, but I still do not think that Jehovah’s Witnesses should lose state support,” she said.

Langvann believes the support is appropriate because it provides an opportunity for dialogue and insight into the environments.

– If they lose state support, I am afraid the religious communities may become even more closed and children’s rights even more challenged, she says.

Langvann also emphasizes that she believes that more demands should be made by the state. Among other things, that in their annual report to the authorities they should tell what they have done to ensure children’s rights and create more equality.

– These requirements are today far too vague, Langvann emphasizes.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been presented with the statements to Trettebergstuen and Langvann, but have not yet commented on them.

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Lester Somrah writes about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses on his social media platforms and was baptized as a member in 1998.

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