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The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. The state church is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, which the government supported financially. The constitution requires that the king and at least half of the cabinet belong to this church. Other denominations operated freely.

Citizens are considered to be members of the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway, unless they explicitly state otherwise. For example, citizens may elect to associate themselves with another denomination, nonreligious organization (e.g., the Norwegian Humanist Association), or to have no religious affiliation at all. An estimated 82 percent of the population (3.9 million persons) nominally belongs to the state church. However, actual church attendance is quite low.

Other religious groups operate freely and include various Protestant Christian denominations (166,000 registered members), Muslims (84,000), Roman Catholics (54,000), and Jews (850). Buddhists, Orthodox Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus are also present in small numbers, together constituting less than 1 percent of the population. The Norwegian Humanist Association--the largest national organization for those who do not formally practice any religion, including atheists--has 79,870 registered members. An unknown number of persons belong to religious institutions but do not formally register with the Government, so they are not reflected in the statistics. The majority of European and American immigrants, who make up approximately 45 percent of the foreign-born population, are either Christian or nonreligious, with the exception of Muslim refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Norway's May 17th Constitution is the second oldest constitution in the world, only the U.S. Constitution from 1787 being older. It is a document upholding the civilreligion of the country, as does the U.S. Constitution. The Norwegian civil religion is of course related also to the position of the Norwegian state church and its religion. According to 2 of the Constitution the Evangelical-Lutheran religion "remains the official religion of the State." The inhabitants professing it should be bound to bring up their children in the same. In the original text Jesuits and monastic orders were prohibited, and Jews were excluded from being admitted to the country. These provisions have later been amended.

The state has no obligation at all to follow the views of or advice from the Church of Norway. However, there have been some conflicts between the state and the Church in modern Norwegian history. They have for instance been related to female clergy, abortion and homosexual partnership.

The constitutional position of the Church of Norway upholds the monarchy - also after the Constitutional revision of 2008. Along these lines the King personally interfered with the political processes when asking Trond Giske, the Minister of Culture and Church Affairs, to uphold paragraph 4 of the Constitution (on the King's mandatory membership in the Church of Norway). This embeddedness of Protestantism in Norwegian legal and political culture makes it difficult in practice to accept both freedom from religion and freedom to other religions.

A religious community is required to register with the government if it desires government financial support, which is provided to all registered denominations on a proportional basis in accordance with their membership. The law permits private or religious schools and day care centers to ask persons seeking employment whether they will respect and teach the denomination's beliefs and principles. Employers may reject applicants on the basis of their responses.

Classes about religion in general are mandatory for children in public schools from grades one through 10, and several major religions and philosophies are covered in an objective manner. Parents may seek an exemption for their children from "activities" connected with the class (such as field trips) but not from the class itself.

The city of Oslo prohibits the wearing of burkas and niqabs in public schools; however, there were no reports that the prohibition was enforced during 2009. In February 2009 the Police Directorate, responding to a petition by a Muslim woman, proposed that the hijab be permitted to be worn with the police uniform in order to recruit a broader field of candidates for police work. This proposal caused an intense nationwide political and media debate, and the police union came out firmly against the change. Some commentators argued that all policewomen should dress the same, and citizens might be afraid that they would not receive equal treatment from a policewoman wearing a hijab. Two weeks after it initially expressed its support for the Police Directorate's proposal, the Justice Ministry withdrew its support and ruled against allowing the hijab to be worn. Many in the Muslim community were disappointed by the Government's reversal.

The Jewish population is relatively small, with approximately 850 registered members and up to 1,200 total members. A number of anti-Semitic incidents occurred during the year, and there was extensive public criticism of Israel that some observers linked to societal anti-Semitism. During Israeli military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in January, there were violent anti-Israeli disturbances on several occasions in Oslo, as hundreds of rioters emerged from protest marches that began peacefully. While 139 of the 194 persons arrested by police were of immigrant background, the vast majority were Norwegian citizens.

In 2008 there was a public debate about introducing greater separation in the state-church relationship. In April 2008 the Minister of Culture presented the results of a parliament-commissioned report on the state and church relationship that had been five years in the making and had included significant public input. The report called for maintaining the state church but for further democratization of the Church and for the Government to consider changes to the Constitution that would further separate church and state functions. One of the immediate effects was the signing of a church agreement that gives the state church the ability to select, but not appoint, its own bishops, a role that had previously been fulfilled by the Government. The legal power to officially appoint bishops will not be transferred to the Church until Parliament amends the Constitution on this point, which it was expected to do during the 2009-11 session

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:03:24 ZULU