Windsor Humanist Society

April 28, 2008

Norway Loosens Church-State Bond

Filed under: Uncategorized — moderator @ 4:21 pm

In 2012 the Norwegian Church will be allowed to elect its own leaders, and the ties between state and church will be loosened. However, this is contingent on increased democracy in the church.

All the parties of the Norwegian National Assembly (Stortinget) have now agreed on the future of the state church.

The charter for a new state church establishment was submitted during a press conference Thursday, April 10, 2008.

The church will be allowed to appoint its own bishops as from 2012, but the presupposition is that the church will be undertaking a democracy reform.

The requirement of this reform is defined in the settlement which was submitted to the cabinet meeting as follows:

“The reform will be executed with a starting point in the report of the Bakkevig committee. The reform shall include the introduction of concrete alternatives, increased use of direct elections and church elections concurrent with public elections. Various organization models should be attempted and evaluated in cooperation with the bodies and agencies of the church, prior to the Storting’s approval of the final provisions governing elections to the Church Meeting and the Diocese Council.”

The settlement presupposes that a democracy reform in line with this definition has been completed in the Norwegian Church during 2011.

Ase KlevelandFurthermore, Article 2 of the Constitution will be adjusted. The phrase stating that “the Evangelical-Lutheran religion” shall be the religion of the state, will be replaced by a paragraph stating that “The articles of faith remain our Christian and humanistic heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state founded on legal protection and the articles of human rights.”

The settlement regarding the State/Church represents a decisive break-through for the viewpoints of The Norwegian Humanist Association (NHA), asserts President of the Board, Åse Kleveland.

“This constitutes a decisive break-through for the viewpoints and visions of NHA, and subsequent ratification will clear the road for a future division between state and church,” says President Åse Kleveland.

Together with the Secretary General of NHA, Kristin Mile, she is very positive to the improvement of today’s state church establishment outlined in the broad political compromise, even if it is far from the resolution of principles defined as the initial ambition of the association.

Thus, in the time to come, the Norwegian Church will have a special attachment to the Constitution, even if it is no longer the case that “the evangelical Lutheran teachings shall be the religion of the state,” but that “The Norwegian Church shall be the church of the Norwegian people.”

Furthermore, the church shall have its own Church Act, and regional and central church management will still remain a subdivision of the public administration, just to mention an example. At the same time it will be comprised in the Constitution that other faith and life stance associations shall be entitled to (financial) support in line with the Norwegian Church.

“We make a note of the fact that this is how far the Government was able to proceed this time, but, on behalf of NHA, we regret that a multicultural country like Norway will give priority to a single life stance community in the Constitution, even if all other faith- and life stance associations will be given equal support,” said Ms. Kleveland.

NHA react positively to the fact that the Norwegian Church will soon be able to elect its own bishops and deans, and to the improvement of Article 2, which implies that Norway no longer will have a state religion consistent with today’s situation.

“We are very glad that this indicates a break-through for our view points, when the state of Norway now proceeds from a constitutional provision for a single life stance community to the legal defense of democracy, a state founded on legal protection and human rights,” said Ms. Kleveland.

Article 2 of the Constitution shall now read as follows: “The articles of faith remain our Christian and humanistic heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state founded on legal protection and the articles of human rights.”

Secretary General of NHA, Kristin Mile is very pleased.

“It is emphasized that Christianity and humanism is our common heritage, while the important future direction, being secured by the Constitution, is democracy, a state founded on legal protection and human rights. This is a major leap ahead. For NHA whose life stance foundation is the articles of human rights, it is a victory to have these articles thus included in this important Article of the Constitution. What we get now is two “hazy” values as opposed to three very clear, concrete value definitions in the second sentence,” said Ms. Mile.

“NHA will still have to focus on the work for a real life stance equality,” emphasized Ms. Mile.

Ms. Kleveland said, “But we are now proceeding from actual fighting, to a stage where the consequences of this resolution of principles will be meticulously worked out.”

She adds that for the moment no decision has been made as to how the financial and administrative relationship between the state and the church will be resolved.

However, NHA is not at all pleased that the Norwegian Church will continue to oversee the management of burials and funerals, but – on the other hand – the association is rather more positive to the sections in the agreement that secure an investigation into the legalizing of the responsibility of the municipalities with regard to unbiased life stance ceremonial locations for weddings and funerals.

There are no optimal solutions. In the practical, everyday life of a democracy there are only compromises, and here we have a compromise where we have achieved a break-through for important demands. This we interpret as a victory, underlines Ms. Kleveland.

The leader of Norwegian Humanist Youth, Lars Petter Helgestad, is happy that the adjustments seem to be pointing in the right direction. At the same time he finds it frustrating that it is impossible to advance further towards a complete division between state and church in the year 2008.

“And I take note that, actually, we are in the process of getting into a situation where the state church will get rid of all the disadvantages of being a state church, as well as retaining all its privileges,” said Mr. Helgestad.

“We are on the right track, but we advance very, very slowly,” said former NHA General Secretary Lars Gule.

“The point is that the ideal solution, a complete division between state and church is not a radical utopia and an impossible project. This is well within the frame of what is a practical, political possibility. But we have a cabinet minister and a party that is clinging to an obsolete establishment. It is rather impressive that they are able to advocate a policy in defense of this anachronism, like. Giske and fractions within the Labour Party and the Centre Party have been doing,” said Mr. Gule.

Other clauses in the settlement:

  • The church retains the management of burials and funerals, in contradiction to the report of the Gjønnes Committee.
  • The King will still be obliged to embrace the Christian faith.
  • Religious freedom is legally protected by the Constitution.
  • The obligation of the state to support all faith- and life stance associations is legally protected by the Constitution.
  • The Norwegian Church has no membership fee.
  • The responsibility of the municipalities to provide unbiased life stance ceremonial locations shall be legally protected.
  • The provision stipulating that at least one half of the members of the government must be members of the state church will be deleted.
  • The church shall not be defined as a subject of legal rights and duties.

Democracy reform is an important pillar for The Norwegian Labour Party. At the beginning of the press conference, church minister Trond Giske (Labour), promised that the intention is that the church itself shall be allowed to appoint its leaders. However, Mr. Giske takes for granted that the internal church democracy will be improved by that time.

“The Labour Party considers it a vital pillar that the democracy reform is in place. Thus, we declare that on completion of this process, there is no need for the state to appoint bishops,” said Mr. Giske.

Consequently, he implies that The Norwegian Labour Party might oppose the church’s own appointment of bishops in the event of non-compliance with satisfactory democracy reforms in 2012. At the press conference Mr. Giske stated that obligations must be fulfilled in line with the definitions in the settlement, but he did not accept that the provisions are so “hazily” defined that it will be up to each and every party in 2012 to define its acceptance.

Furthermore, Mr. Giske emphasized that the new establishment does not entail any “division between state and church.” The church will remain a major public responsibility.

Dagrun Eriksen, representing The Norwegian Christian Democracy Party, stated in her introduction that the democracy reform demands are contingent on specific structures to promote democracy being in place, and not connected to the result. She was pleased to hear that Mr. Giske agreed to this.

The Centre Party’s Inger Enger was of the opinion that “the Centre Party had managed to leave its footprints” on this settlement. She accepted that the ties between church and state would be loosened, but stated that the ties between church and people would be strengthened.

She indicated that The Centre Party might oppose division in 2012 in the event that the democracy reforms might not be in place.

“If the democracy evaluations do not show the intended results, the Centre Party will not support a resolution to transfer authority to the church and allow it to appoint its own leaders,” Ms. Enger emphasized.

During the subsequent round of questions, Mr. Giske underlined once more that there will be no automatic release enabling the church itself to appoint its own leaders. This is entirely dependent on the democracy reforms.

“However, at the same time, it is not optional for the parties themselves to define what they consider to be ‘sufficient democracy’ when we reach 2012. This is clearly defined in the settlement,” Mr. Giske stated.

He affirmed that Labour and Centre have a thought-provoking minority, and in case the democracy reforms are not satisfactory, Labour and Centre might stop the transfer of authority to the church in 2012.

There was some advance excitement as to the role of The Centre Party in the settlement. The Centre Party’s crystal clear Central Country Meeting resolution was that they cannot accept that the state will let go of the bishop appointments. However, it now seems that the party has agreed to this, contingent on a church democracy reform prior to 2012.

Labour has been the other strong defender of the continued participation of the state with regard to the appointment of bishops. However, Labour has not committed the party as strongly as The Centre Party.

The problems became evident during the resolution process in the National Assembly. This matter requires a two-thirds majority because of the necessary amendments to the Constitution, and thus the government parties Labour and Centre was dependent on persuading the opposition.

(In a normal case of a 50/50 vote this would not be a problem. Norway’s present government is elected from a majority of the mandates in the National Assembly, but not a two-thirds majority).

However, among the opposition the situation is completely different. The opposition demanded that the church was to be released and be allowed to appoint its leaders on its own. Consequently, the government parties were compelled to give way during the negotiations.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, J.McAllister, after a April 23, 2008 article by Even Gran and Kirsti Berg over (the online news publication of Human-Etisk Forbund – The Norwegian Humanist Association – Translation from Norwegian by Tone Haugen Jensen) – Translation from Norwegian by Tone Haugen Jensen

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