This is the letter sent to Jehovah's Witnesses in Norway regarding the refusal of state grants, dated 27 January 2022. It is a bit lengthy but nails down the objections to shunning:
1914 YTRE ENEBAKK
state grants for 2021
Governor refers to requirements for state grants dated 26.02.2021, Ministry of
Children and Family Affairs letter of 15.04.2021, our letter of 27.05.2021, and
the statement in your letter of 23.06.2021.
Governor decided to establish an investigation case and made the processing of
state grants on re-enrichment in a letter of 15.09.2021. In response to our
letter, we received an account from Jehovah's Witnesses dated 11/19/2021.
Governor denies Jehovah's Witnesses state grants for 2021, cf. Section 11 first paragraph
of the Religious Communities Regulations subsections (a) and d), and Sections 2
and 6 of the Religious Communities Act.
Governor has received a letter from Rolf Furuli in connection with the
exclusion and expulsion of members. The Ministry of Children and Family Affairs
has asked the County Governor to consider whether the inquiry from Furuli seems
to be information of importance for registration and government grants for Jehovah's
Witnesses, cf. Section 6 of the Religious Communities Act, and possibly assess
the need to make further investigations, cf. Section 10 of the Religious
connection with the investigation, we have reviewed the religious community's
own accounts and publications.
second paragraph of the Religious Communities Act
religious and philosophical societies themselves establish conditions for
membership and procedure for enrollment in the community. Withdrawal must
always be able to take place in writing.
first paragraph of the Religious Communities Act
religious or philosophical society, or individuals acting on behalf of the society,
engage in violence or coercion, make threats, infringe children's rights,
violate statutory prohibition of discrimination or otherwise seriously
infringes on the rights and freedoms of others, the society is denied grants or
grants can be truncated. Grants may also be refused or truncated if the society
encourages or supports violations mentioned in this subsection.
of the Religious Communities Regulations
Governor may make a decision to refuse grants if religious or philosophical
a) commit, encourage or support violations as mentioned
in Section 6, first paragraph of the Religious Communities Act
b) use the grant for purposes other than religious or
c) fail to report, report inadequately or incorrectly
d) do not comply with the law's rules for entry and
e) have provided substantially too high membership
numbers or have provided other incorrect information that has significance for
the grant decision
assessment of whether matters mentioned in the first subsection, items a–e,
shall lead to the society being denied grants, particular emphasis shall be
placed on measures taken by the society to prevent such conditions. Emphasis
shall also be placed on how serious the relationship is and whether it appears
If there are
grounds for refusing grants, the grant may, after a concrete assessment, be truncated
instead. Nevertheless, if the religious or philosophical society has systematically,
persistently or intentionally carried out, encouraged or supported violations
mentioned in Section 6, first subsection of the Religious Communities Act,
grants will be fully denied.
Convention on Human Rights. Article 9 (ECHR)
the right to freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion;
this right includes the freedom to change their religion or beliefs,
on Civil and Political Rights. Article 18 No. 2 (CP)
should be subjected to coercion that could restrict his freedom to confess to
or to assume a religion or faith of his choice.
third paragraph of the Constitution
have the right to protection of their personal integrity. The state authorities
shall facilitate conditions for the child's development, including ensuring
that the child receives the necessary economic, social and safety conditions,
preferably in one's own family.
on the Rights of the Child Article 19
shall meet all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational
measures to protect the child from any form of physical or psychological
violence, injury or abuse, neglect or neglectful treatment, maltreatment or
Section 8 of the Religious Communities Act, the County Governor has supervisory
authority over registered communities of belief. Jehovah's Witnesses were
registered with the County Governor on 15.10.1985, and are registered to
31.12.2022 in the transitional rules of section 23 second paragraph of the new
Religious Communities Act. The religion is therefore subject to our
supervision. As part of the supervisory task, we shall ensure that communities
fulfil their duties under the Act.
Based on our
investigations, we have concluded that Jehovah's Witnesses have acted contrary
to the conditions for grants pursuant to sections 2 second paragraph and section
6 first paragraph of the Religious Communities Act.
second subsection of the Religious Communities Act states
"The religious and
philosophical societies themselves establish conditions for membership and
enrollment in the community. Withdrawal must always be able to take place in
Furthermore, it is evident from the preparatory
work of the Act that members will be able to opt out without obstacles on the
part of the religious community. This is rooted in the right to freedom of
religion, including ECHR Art. 9 and CP Art. 18 No. 2. Such an interpretation
that the preparatory works propose also corresponds to the statement from the
UN Human Rights Committee.
Witnesses have previously explained their exclusion practices in a letter of
04.03.2021 to then Minister
of Children and Family Affairs, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad. The letter was attached to Jehovah's Witnesses' statement
received here on 23.06.2021. The letter asks "whether Jehovah's Witnesses
are trying to avoid those who no longer belong to the religion." In their
response, it is stated that:
"We do not shun those who
have been baptised as Jehovah's Witnesses but who no longer preach to others
and who may have also stopped meeting with their fellow believers.
Someone who violates the moral
norms of the Bible is not automatically excluded. However, if a baptised
Jehovah's Witness makes a habit of breaking the Bible’s moral standards and doesn't
want to change, he or she is excluded and we shun that person. This practice is
based on the teachings of the Bible. All Jehovah's Witnesses agree to live by
these standards when they make the well-considered choice to be baptised." (letter to
is stated in the book "Organized to do Jehovah’s Will" that a member
who has chosen to withdraw is treated in the same way as one that is excluded:
"The phrase ‘disassociation’
denotes that a baptised member of the congregation deliberately repudiates his Christian
standing by declaring that he no longer wants to be known as one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Or he can reject the congregation by his actions, for example by becoming part
of a secular organization whose purpose is contrary to the Bible, and therefore
condemned by Jehovah God.
If a Christian person chooses
to disassociate, a brief announcement is made to inform the congregation,
stating, ‘[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses.’ Such a
person is treated in the same way as a disfellowshipped person."
The consequence of leaving the congregation is that
they are no longer allowed to have contact with family and friends in the congregation.
The religious community is clear that members should not have contact with excluded
members. As we see in the section above, this also applies to members who have
resigned. This practice may cause members to feel pressured to stay in religion.
opinion of the Rate Manager (Satsforvalterens), this practice is an obstacle to
the members' right to free opt-out, and in violation of Section 2 second
paragraph of the Religious Communities Act. Pursuant to Section 11 (d) of the
Religious Communities Regulations this may result in grounds for denying grants
to the religion.
a baptised minor
In a letter
from the Ministry, the County Governor was asked to take a closer look at
Jehovah's Witnesses' exclusion practices of children. In a letter to the then
Minister of Children and Family Affairs, Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, dated 04.03.2021,
the society explained how they treat a baptised minor who violates the rules of
"If a baptized Jehovah's
Witness, regardless of age, makes a habit of violating the moral standards of
the Bible and does not repent, the same practice applies as mentioned
In the quote
above, Jehovah's Witnesses refer to the exclusion practice described earlier in
the same letter.
"Organized to do Jehovah’s Will” elaborates on how baptised minors are
“Serious wrongdoing on the part of minor children who are baptised should be
reported to the elders. When the elders handle cases of serious sins involving a minor, it is preferable that the
baptised parents of the young person be present and cooperate with the
judicial committee, not attempting to shield the
erring child from necessary disciplinary action. Just as in dealing with
adult offenders, the judicial committee endeavours to reprove and restore
the wrongdoer. However, if the young person is
unrepentant, disfellowshipping action is taken.”
on exclusion is made by the judicial committee of the congregation. An exclusion
means that he or she is no longer considered a Jehovah's Witness. This decision
is notified to the congregation where the person is a member, and the congregation
is told to stop "interacting with that person." The Society describes
exclusion as a "strong form of correction".
assess whether the exclusion of a baptised minor violates Section 6 of the
Religious Communities Act.
Section 6 of the Religious Communities Act, religious communities that encourage
or support infringement of children's rights may be denied grants. In the
preparatory work on Section 6 of the Religious Communities Act, negative social
control of children was used as an example of violation of children's rights
that may provide grounds for refusal of grants.
Governor understands the concept of negative social control as being various
forms of supervision, pressure, threats and coercion exercised to ensure that
individuals live in accordance with the norms of the family or group. The
control is characterised by the fact that it is systematic and may violate the
individual's rights in accordance with, among other things, the Convention on
the Rights of the Child and Norwegian law.
even describes this practice as a strong form of correction. Children in the congregation
follow a number of rules, and the consequence of not following them is to be
ostracized by the congregation and isolated from family and friends who are
told not to associate with those excluded.
In their statement of 19.11.2021, in section 19, it states that the family ties do not
cease on exclusion as long as they live in the same household. However, we
understand that the child cannot have contact with other close family
(including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins) or friends. This comes in
response to the fact that the child has violated the rules of the religious
community. We believe that this may be perceived as pressure or coercion to
make children behave in a certain way. The consequence of breaking the rules is
therefore considered a form of punishment.
background, the exclusion of baptised underage members is considered negative
social control and an infringement of children's rights pursuant to Section 6
of the Religious Communities Act. Section 11 first paragraph (a) of the
Religious Communities Regulations may provide a basis for denying the religion
social isolation of uninjured (udøpte) minors
have not yet been baptised but are members of the congregation may be given the
status of "unbaptised publisher." If an unbaptised publisher commits
a serious sin, these children can also be "banned" from the congregation.
The child is not excluded, but the congregation is told to be careful about
interacting with the child.
"Organized to do Jehovah’s Will" states the following about unbaptised
"Young children may also qualify as publishers of
the good news
It would be appropriate for one of the parents to
approach one of the elders on the congregation Service
to discuss whether the child is qualified to become a publisher. The coordinator
of the body of elders will arrange to have two elders
who is on the Service Committee) meet with the child and its
believing parent or guardian. If the child has a basic
knowledge of Bible truth and gives evidence of wanting to share in the
ministry, this would indicate good progress has been made. After
considering these and other factors similar to those that apply to
adults, they can determine whether the child may be recognised as an
the Society's handling of an unbaptised publisher committing a "serious
sin" is explained:
“If an unbaptized wrongdoer is unrepentant
after two elders have met with him and have tried to
then it is necessary to inform the congregation. A brief announcement is
made, stating: "[Name of person] is no longer
recognised as an unbaptised publisher." The congregation will then
view the wrongdoer as a person of the world. Although the offender is
not disfellowshipped, Christians exercise caution with
regard to any
association with him. (1 Cor. 15:33) No field service reports would be
accepted from him.”
Governor considers that this practice is also regarded as negative social
control. We consider social isolation as a form of punishment against the
child. We believe this is an infringement of children's rights pursuant to
Section 6 of the Religious Communities Act. Pursuant to Section 11, first
paragraph (a) of the Religious Communities Regulations, this may provide a
basis for denying the religion grants.
grant should be refused
We have concluded that Jehovah's Witnesses have
violated sections 2 and 6 of the Religious Communities Act, and on these grounds
the religious community may be denied grants pursuant to Section 11 of the
Religious Communities Regulations. Whether the grant must be refused requires a
concrete assessment, cf. "may". Pursuant to Section 11, second and
third subsections, of the Religious Communities Regulations, the County
Governor shall assess whether the circumstances are serious and whether they
are intentional. The preparatory works point
out that grants shall as a general rule be refused when the offences appear to
be systematic and intentional.
that the offences, which violate both the right to freedom of religion and
children's right to protection against violence is considered serious. The
aforementioned practices are documented in books and in study articles
published by the religion. The religious community has also recorded detailed rules
for how a judicial committee works and how the committee will decide on issues
of exclusion. The practice is followed systematically on the part of the
religious community, and is notified to the members in several channels. On
this basis, we conclude that the offences appear intentional.
concrete assessment, we find that the grants shall be refused, cf. Section 11
of the Religious Communities Regulations, Section 6 of the Religious
Section 11, third subsection of the Religious Communities Regulations, the
County Governor shall assess whether there may be grounds for truncating the
grant, instead of denying the grant in full. Nevertheless, if the religion
systematically, persistently or intentionally carried out, encouraged or
supported violations mentioned in Section 6, first paragraph, of the Religious
Communities Act, they will be fully denied grants.
find grounds to truncate. The grant is refused in its entirety, cf. Section 11
of the Religious Communities Regulations third paragraph.
relationship to the right to freedom of religion
letter dated 19.11.2021, you explain why you believe your exclusion practices
are protected by the right to freedom of religion. We would therefore like to
remind you that the Religious Communities Act is a subsidy law, where the state
has set certain conditions for religious communities to receive public funding.
States are free to choose how they want to support religious communities, and
have no positive obligations under the ECHR section 9 in terms of grants. ECHR
has also stated that access to financial support ("additional
funding") does not affect the individual's right to express
("manifest") their religion.
of Section 6 of the Religious Communities Act is to protect the rights and
freedoms of others. The terms of the grants shall not be a means of limiting
the room for manoeuvre for the religious and philosophical societies different
theological views and values. As the clear starting point, there should be room
for different opinions about what is a preferred moral or value
"right". Therefore the right to refuse grants is limited to such
violations as mentioned in the provision.
Right of Appeal
decision can be appealed to the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs within
3 weeks. Any complaint must be sent to the County Governor. To file a
complaint, use community attachment feature: "Submit additional
information" in the digital solution, and select then "Appeal against
and 19 of the Public Administration Act contain the regulations for viewing the
documents of the case.
Hege Skaanes Nyhus
General Legal Department