Jehovah’s Witnesses may lose registration as a religious community.
After losing access to taxpayers’ funds last month, the registration of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway is now being questioned. Below is a translation of an article by Caroline Teinum Gilje that was published by vl.no on February 15, 2022.
To deprive a religious and philosophical community of registration is a symbolic decision, says Ingrid Rosendorf Joys, Secretary General of the Co-operation Council for Religious and Philosophical Societies (STL).
Last month, it became known that the Attorney General is denying Jehovah’s Witnesses state subsidies for 2021 because of their exclusionary practice. Now the religious community risks another slap. The head of state will also consider whether Jehovah’s Witnesses can be registered as a religious community.
The Ministry of Children and Family Affairs has previously received warnings from ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses about the exclusion and expulsion of members. In the spring of 2021, therefore, the ministry sent out a two-part order: The state administrator should consider whether the information in the warnings may be relevant to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ application for government grants. In addition, they asked them to assess whether the information is important for the registration of the religious community.
On this basis, the Attorney General chose to create an investigative case in which they reviewed Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own statements and publications on exclusion. “In this review, the Attorney General has uncovered several violations of the Religious Communities Act,” the Attorney General wrote when it became known in January that they were refusing Jehovah’s state subsidies.
According to the Attorney General, they have not yet concluded whether Jehovah’s Witnesses meet the conditions for registration of religious communities.
The case is still being processed, says Hege Skaanes Nyhus, department director at the State Administrator in Oslo and Viken.
May lose more goods
If they refuse to register Jehovah’s Witnesses, it can have several practical consequences for the faith community.
On a general basis, we can state that registration according to the law gives certain rights, such as that society can apply for the right to marry, own burial ground and state subsidy, Nyhus states.
In addition, a refusal of registration could have a great symbolic effect, according to the general secretary of STL.
Losing registration in this way can increase the degree of exclusion. We do not know what this will concretely lead to in the long run, says Ingrid Rosendorf Joys.
She believes the situation is different in cases where religious communities are deprived of registration for practical reasons, and refers to the following example:
To be able to be registered, a religious or philosophical community must have at least 50 members. If a religious community falls below this limit, they lose the registration. Then the reasoning will be about form. But in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is about the very content of the religious and philosophical community, she says.
Has notified appeal
According to the State Attorney, last spring’s order of the independent ministry would have to review the registration terms of Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to the new Religious Communities Act, which came into force on 1 January last year, all religious and philosophical communities must apply for registration again within two years.
In January , Jehovah’s Witnesses were denied grants on the basis of, among other things, section 6 of the Religious Communities Act, which the State Administrator justified as follows:
“The faith community also allows for the exclusion of baptized minors. This means that children can be excluded if they break the rules of the religious community. We believe this is negative social control and violates children’s rights. Unbaptized children who break the rules of the faith community can be exposed to social isolation. This is also perceived as negative social control and violations of children’s rights. Such treatment of children is in violation of the Religious Communities Act § 6. »
Section 4 of the Religious Communities Act states that religious communities “may be refused registration, or the registration may be withdrawn, if one or more of the conditions for refusing a grant in § 6 are met”.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have announced that they will appeal the case to the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs , citing, among other things, that “their faith and religious practices fully respect the rights and freedoms of others.”