Jehovah's Witnesses Norway
Anthony Morris III, Governing Body Member of Jehovah's Witnesses discusses the "exciting update regarding freedom of worship" in Norway.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Norway

Extract from 2022 Governing Body Update #8 discussing the revocation of grants in Norway.

Anthony Morris, a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jorgen Pedersen, a member of the Scandinavian Branch Committee, discuss the events currently unfolding in Norway with regard to the suspension of the monetary grants Jehovah’s Witnesses benefit from in that country. 

In this Governing Body Update, released on December 2, 2022, the information provided to the worldwide organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses is carefully framed to present the situation as though Norway was limiting or restricting their freedom to worship. To understand the complexity of the situation in Norway, it would be beneficial to watch the video above. And, to ensure you fully understand what Morris and Pedersen have discussed, I strongly recommend that you read the full transcript below of what they discussed.

Transcript of Discussion

We have another exciting update regarding freedom of worship. 

As Jesus foretold at Matthew 10:22, we face much opposition. Jesus said, “And you will be hated by all people on account of my name.” 

To assist Jehovah’s people, we have recently established the Freedom of Worship Office at the Central Europe Branch. This headquarters department will coordinate our efforts to defend our worship in Europe.  

Now, you might be wondering, ‘the work has been established throughout Europe for many years, so is this really needed?’ Yes, it is.  For example, recently the government of Norway decided that Jehovah’s Witnesses will no longer receive certain state benefits that are provided to all registered religions.  Here, to explain more about this, is Brother Jorgen Pedersen. 

We were shocked when we received a letter from government authorities in Oslo, Norway threatening to remove our registration as a religious community.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been active preaching the good news in Norway for more than 120 years. In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered for their faith under the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II. 

Commenting on how Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only religious group who stood firm against the Nazis, a previous minister for religion explained, ‘People throughout the country should know about this. Especially young ones would benefit from this information.’

We’ve always been known as good citizens. In fact, a public report stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses are careful to obey the laws of the land. Now they have suspended our grants while there are over 700 religious communities who continue to receive such state benefits.

This decision is unconstitutional and an unprecedented attack on religious freedom in Norway.

With the assistance with the newly established Freedom of Worship Office, we are pursuing legal remedies. At the same time, we are pursuing dialogue with government officials, and we pray that this situation will be amicably resolved.

Thank you, Brother Pedersen. 

The authorities in Norway have threatened to remove our legal registration because of our scriptural beliefs and practices regarding disfellowshipping. 

In the future, various governments will challenge our freedom of worship. They may pressure us to change our scriptural beliefs. But we’re certainly not going to do that!

As Brother Pedersen mentioned, efforts are being made to address this issue. In the meantime, please, make it a matter of prayer.

Analysis of Morris and Pedersen's Discussion

Anthony Morris begins his report regarding freedom of worship by telling his viewers that he has “another exciting update”. This is a confusing beginning to a story that one would normally regard as bad news. Isn’t persecution bad news? Or is it exciting news for Jehovah’s Witnesses? In the context of Matthew 10:22 framed as referring specifically to Jehovah’s Witnesses, this may be the case.

From left to right: Anthony Morris III & Jorgen Pedersen.

With the free access to documents and publications that were originally intended to be kept secret from most Jehovah’s Witnesses, and indeed the public, the religious group are struggling to convince governments and courts that they are a harmless group who practice no ill towards anyone.  This website, AvoidJW.org, provides free access to many such publications, including Branch Organization, Shepherd the Flock of God, Letters to Bodies of Elders, and many older editions of Organized to Do Jehovah’s Will. Access to such publications makes it very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses to pull the wool over the eyes of secular authorities. This is particularly true when it comes to child sexual abuse, religiously enforced shunning of expelled members, and undue influence with regard to life threating decisions surrounding blood transfusion. 

These same publications were used in Norway by former believing Jehovah’s Witnesses to help the Norwegian Government understand how the religious group provide two narratives: one that they present to the public and ordinary rank & file members, and another that they present to congregation elders. 

So, while many ordinary Jehovah’s Witnesses may be wondering why a Freedom of Worship Office is needed in Europe, those who are heavily involved in revealing the true nature of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not. As you continue to read, you’ll begin to understand why.

"An Unprecedented Attack on Religious Freedom in Norway"

Pedersen begins his report by claiming that he was shocked to receive a letter from the government in Norway threatening to remove Jehovah’s Witnesses’ registration as a religious community. 

Unrelatedly, he mentions that the Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered for their faith under Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II, and quotes from a former government minister of religion.

He claims a public report stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses are careful to obey the laws of the land but despite that, their grants have been suspended while over 700 other religious groups continue to receive state benefits.

He claims the “decision is unconstitutional and an unprecedented attack on religious freedom in Norway”.

He finishes his short segment by revealing that the newly established Freedom of Worship Office is pursuing legal remedies and is praying that the situation is amicably resolved.

At no point in his report, does Jorgen Pedersen reveal why the government is removing Jehovah’s Witnesses’ registration as a religion. Nor does he explain why their grants, worth US$1.5 million, have been suspended. He frames the situation as if this was an unprovoked attack on religious freedom. An ordinary Jehovah’s Witness would be forgiven for assuming that the government sent the Jehovah’s Witnesses a surprise letter saying they were removing their grants and de-registering them as a religious group. 

One needs to ask oneself WHY and WHAT. WHY has the government of Norway suspended grants to Jehovah’s Witnesses? WHAT do Jehovah’s Witnesses use the grants for? WHAT will the removal of legal registration mean for Jehovah’s Witnesses? WHY is the government of Norway threatening to remove Jehovah’s Witnesses’ registration?  WHY is it an unprecedented attack on religious freedom? WHY has Jorgen Pedersen failed to answer these questions? These are simple but pertinent questions.

Anthony Morris gives a vague response to the second question. He says, “The authorities in Norway have threatened to remove our legal registration because of our scriptural beliefs and practices regarding disfellowshipping.” 

Curiously, for a religious organization that believes the end of this World and an incoming New World is imminent, Morris goes on to say that “In the future, various governments will challenge our freedom of worship. They may pressure us to change our scriptural beliefs.”

Although the situation is left open to interpretation, and important questions remain unanswered, he pleads with all Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world to “make it a matter of prayer.” This begs another question: What are Jehovah’s Witnesses asked to pray for if they do not have all the facts of the case?

WHAT do Jehovah's Witnesses Use the Grants For?

The Norwegian government provides grants to all religions in Norway that comply with the Religious and Communities Act. Grants are provided based on the number of members the religious group has. As there are about 12000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway, the grant is worth about US$1.5 million each year.

In Norway, religion is seen as a positive influence on it’s citizens. Therefore, the purpose of the grant is to help religions finance their efforts to provide a benefit to society in general. It is not intended to be acquired and distributed to religious efforts outside of Norway.  However, when one analyses the financial annual reports for Jehovas Vitner (the legal name of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway), much more money is leaving Norway than is given in grants. 

If you look at the accounts for 2021, for example, and look for “Økonomisk støtte til virksomheten i andre land” which means, “Financial support for the business in other countries”, you’ll notice that more than 104million NOK (US$ 10.5 million) is sent overseas! The financial records show that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not use the money for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway. Instead, the Norwegian government is helping finance Jehovah’s Witnesses’ international efforts. 

WHY has Norway suspended grants to Jehovah's Witnesses?

A new law entitled, the Religious Communities Act, came into effect on January 1, 2021. This law outlines the conditions that religions must meet to register as a religion and receive grants. It also specifies several grounds for when the state can refuse state subsidies. 

The new law clearly states that the use of violence, coercion, threats, violation of children’s rights, or the serious violation of the rights of others may lead to a grant being reduced or denied entirely.  Broadly speaking, the law is there to ensure “resources are used … to achieve socially beneficial purposes”.

In its decision, the Norwegian government pointed out that Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publications make it clear that members are not to have contact with expelled members. It claimed that such a practice pressurizes members to remain in the group.  The information contained therein indicates that shunning involves a strict form of negative social control and psychological violence. Furthermore, the shunning affects not just adults but also children under the age of 18 who have been baptized and subsequently disfellowshipped. This is an alarming revelation for the government of Norway.

It is for these reasons Norway has suspended grants to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

For a broader understanding of why Jehovah’s Witnesses were denied state subsidies, please read the article, Jehovah’s Witnesses Denied State Subsidies

WHAT will the removal of legal registration mean?

Both Pedersen and Morris conveniently failed to explain what the removal of registration means for a religious group in Norway. Because of this omission, coupled with Pedersen’s claim that this is “an unprecedented attack on religious freedom in Norway”, some Jehovah’s Witnesses may be led to believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses are about to be banned in Norway. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The removal of registration does not impact on their freedom to worship. They can continue to meet at kingdom halls. They can continue to share their religious message by preaching door to door, by letter, by standing on street corners and so on. It has no impact on their religious freedom. All other religious activities continue as is. They can continue to shun former members but as long as they do so, they lose access to funding because it is contrary to socially beneficial behaviour.

The removal of registration of a religious group in Norway means that they can no longer apply for state grants that is a privilege for registered religious groups only. It also means that religions who are not registered can no longer perform legal marriages. One can still get married in a kingdom hall, but it will not be legally recognized by the state. The couple would have to perform a separate ceremony to have it legally recognized.

WHY Is the Government Threatening to Remove Registration?

Jehovah’s Witnesses have had their grants suspended because of religiously mandated shunning. Furthermore, the shunning affects not just adults but also children under the age of 18 who have been baptized and subsequently disfellowshipped.  As grants are provided to registered religious groups only, and is issued through an annual application process, the government is removing the Jehovah’s Witnesses ability to apply for the grant by removing them from the register.

For a broader understanding of why Jehovah’s Witnesses are threatened with loss of registration, please read the article, State Administrator issues Jehovah’s Witnesses with notice of loss of registration.

WHY Is It An Unprecedented Attack on Religious Freedom?

Simply put, it’s not. Religious freedom is not affected by this decision by the Norwegian Government. As mentioned, Jehovah’s Witnesses can continue to believe and practice without any infringement by the government. However, they will not receive any state funding because of their harmful practice of shunning those whom they have expelled. 

What the Jehovah’s Witnesses intend to do with their newly created Freedom of Worship Office is to come up with legally creative means to reverse the Norwegian government’s decision. As Pedersen revealed, they will try to resolve this amicably by meeting with government officials. However, if that doesn’t work, we can expect some legal court cases being taken to reach their goal.

WHY Has Jorgen Pedersen Failed to Answer These Questions?

The clue to answering this question is in the single Bible verse at Matthew 10:22 that Morris quoted at the outset, “And you will be hated by all people on account of my name.”

It is clear that this situation that the Jehovah’s Witnesses face in Norway isn’t about religious freedom. It isn’t even about persecution because the Jehovah’s Witnesses can continue to believe and practice as they have always done in Norway.

This is about money.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses want access to free money that the Norwegian government hands out to over 700 religions every year. 

However, in order to ensure the full support of the worldwide organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Anthony Morris has misapplied a Bible verse. He has used this scripture to give the false impression that the government of Norway hates Jehovah’s Witnesses, while simultaneously insinuating that the verse applies solely to events relating to the religious group. 

Final Comment

In a request for comment, Mark O’Donnell, a human rights activist who works a lot with child abuse cases relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States, says, “This new video is a perfect example of the spoon feeding of Jehovah’s Witnesses with very limited and selective information that the Governing Body chooses to release.”

If Pedersen and Morris had been fully honest and provided the full facts about what is going on in Norway, one could argue that not all Jehovah’s Witnesses would fully agree with Pedersen’s claim that this is an unprecedented attack on religious freedom.

What every Jehovah’s Witness around the world needs to ask themselves is, if a Governing Body member is publicly and shamelessly willing to deceive the entire worldwide brotherhood of Jehovah’s Witnesses about what is really happening in Norway, is their God Jehovah in support of this deception? And what all governments should be asking is, if the religious leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses have no qualms about deceiving their own members, why would you think they’d treat you any better?

Timeline of Events

January 1, 2021

The new edition of the Religious Communities Act came into force.

February 26, 2021

Jehovah’s Witnesses make a claim for state subsidies for 12, 727 members.

March 15, 2021

The Ministry of Children & Families receives an enquiry from a former Jehovah’s Witness who explained the religious community’s shunning practice.

April 15, 2021

The Ministry of Children & Families forwards the inquiry to the State Administrator asking whether the information provided a basis for conducting further investigations.

May 27, 2021

The State Administrator contacts Jehovah’s Witnesses for an explanation.

June 23, 2021

Jehovah’s Witnesses respond to the request from the State Administrator.

September 15, 2021

The State Administrator contacts Jehovah’s Witnesses again referring to further enquiries and informs the religious group that the information in the inquiries could have an impact on the processing of their claim for state subsidies, and asked for comments within 3 weeks.

October 4, 2021

Jehovah’s Witnesses ask for further clarification on the basis of the investigation and possible refusal of grants.

October 25, 2021

The State Administrator responds to the inquiry from Jehovah’s Witnesses.

November 19, 2021

The State Administrator receives a statement from Jehovah’s Witnesses.

January 27, 2022

The State Administrator decides to refuse state subsidies to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

February 17, 2022

Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal the decision.

March 30, 2022

The Ministry of Children & Families receive the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ complaint.

April 7, 2022

The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses writes to the Minister of Children and Families requesting a brief meeting “to offer accurate information about our religious practices.”

April 25, 2022

The European Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses writes to the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman requesting a brief meeting seeking “possible recommendations in connection with the issue.”

September 30, 2022

The Ministry of Children & Families uphold the State Administrator’s decision to refuse state subsidies for 2021.

October 25, 2022

The State Administrator in Oslo & Viken issue a notice to Jehovah’s Witnesses that they may delete the religious community from the register of religions.
November 8, 2022
 
Jehovah’s Witnesses write to the State Administrator in Oslo & Viken stating that they oppose the notice, ask for a postponement of the deadline, clarification about which conditions the religious community should rectify, and request a meeting.
November 14, 2022
 
The State Administrator in Oslo & Viken grants the extended response deadline, refer the Jehovah’s Witnesses to the sections of the Religious Community Act that have been breached, and accommodate their request for a meeting.

Note: The above letters are English translations of those sent between Jehovah’s Witnesses Branch in Denmark and the Government of Norway.

Financial Records

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2022 Governing Body Update #8

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Jason Wynne

Jason Wynne is a husband to one wife, father to two children, and writes extensively on the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses having been baptized as a member in 1995.

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