Oslo District Court, Norway

Jehovah’s Witnesses to Appeal “Unconstitutional Ruling” in Norway

“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. It really is public brainwashing and misinformation.”Robert Kane Pappas

Written by Lester Somrah - March 29, 2023

Table of Contents

Public Statement of Jehovah’s Witnesses

On March 28, 2024, the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses published the following statement on their official website regarding the recent court judgement of the Oslo District Court in favour of Norway regarding the State’s decision to de-register the local Jehovah’s Witness community as well as deny them any further State funding commencing from 2021.
Below is the full text of the public statement of Jehovah’s Witnesses:

On March 4, 2024, the Oslo District Court upheld the Norwegian government’s decision to revoke the legal registration of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway will appeal the decision.

The County Governor of Oslo and Viken revoked our registration at the end of 2022. The Oslo District Court temporarily suspended this action on December 30, 2022, pending further investigation. The position of the State now remains that it will continue to deny legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country of Norway unless we change our practices regarding the removal of unrepentant wrongdoers from the congregation.

The decision to deregister Jehovah’s Witnesses denies us the financial aid and other benefits that the government provides to over 700 registered religious communities in the country. Additional consequences include losing the right to appoint and authorize ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses as officiants for weddings.

While we await the outcome of the appeal, we will continue to pray “concerning kings and all those who are in high positions, so that we may go on leading a calm and quiet life with complete godly devotion.”—1 Timothy 2:1, 2.

***Editor's Note: This public statement is available only in Danish, English, Swedish and Norwegian. In Norwegian, Jehovah’s Witnesses correctly describe it as "their registration". In the other three languages, Jehovah’s Witnesses deceptively refer to it as "legal recognition". Jehovah's Witnesses are still legally recognized in Norway. It's just that they are not permitted to be a registered religion.

Key Points of the March 4, 2024 Court Judgement of the Oslo District Court

  • The protection of having an inner conviction and the freedom to change one's religion or belief is absolute and inviolable. The freedom to express one's religion or belief can, however, be limited under the terms of Article 9 No. 2.
  • Article 9 must often be seen in the context of other freedoms and rights.
  • It is, for example, up to a religious community itself to decide who should be a member, including making decisions about exclusion. At the same time, it is emphasized that the right to free exercise of religion for individuals is secured by the right for the individual to leave a religious community, cf. HR-2022-883-A sections 45-47 and ECtHR, Mirolubovs et al. v. Latvia (2009) section 80 c ) and D).
  • Through the policies and practices of exclusion, Jehovah's Witnesses encourage members who are ostracized or withdraw, so that with few exceptions they are exposed to social isolation from those remaining in the faith community. The court agrees with the state that this has effects that are to be regarded as serious violations of the rights and freedoms of others which provide grounds for refusing state subsidies and registration, cf. § 6 of the Religious Communities Act, cf. §§ 2 and 4.
  • The court believes that Jehovah's Witnesses violate children's rights as sufficient grounds for refusing grants and registration. In particular, this applies to their right to freely opt out.
  • Freedom of religion is protected by, among other things, Article 9 of the ECHR and Section 16 of the Constitution. The right to freely change religion or belief is absolute and inviolable. It provides strong protection against pressure or coercion that stands in the way of being able to exercise this right.
  • Children should not be put in a situation where they bind themselves to rules that in practice will cause major obstacles to their right and freedom to change their religion or belief, both as minors and later in life. It is not sufficient to show that the minor is well acquainted with the practice of exclusion before baptism, or that the religious age of majority is 15.
  • Children's rights are also violated by the fact that the social isolation that comes with the practice of exclusion, or the fear of being exposed to it, poses a risk of serious damage to their health and well-being. The treatment then qualifies as psychological violence and a violation of Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, cf. General comment no. 13 (2011) and John Tobin, The UN Convention on the rights of the child (2019) pp. 694 and 695.
  • There is no doubt that Jehovah's Witnesses are responsible for the violations in the assessment of whether grants and registration should be refused according to the Religious Communities Act, cf.

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that protects people's inner convictions, the freedom to change their religion or convictions, and the freedom to express their religion or convictions, cf. ECHR Article 9, which in the Norwegian translation reads:

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching practice and observance.
  2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

"Norway's laws were designed, and revised, to protect children from practices that lead to negative social control, isolation, and ostracism. The disfellowshipping of minors violates those laws. 

In effect, these important laws are the equivalent of anti-bullying principles that apply to all organizations, religious or otherwise. 

It is noteworthy that Jehovah's Witnesses in Norway, and around the world, are being spoon-fed a corrupted and misleading summary of this case. Nowhere will you find a link to, or copy of, the decision of the Oslo court within the JW newsfeed, or anywhere else that the Witnesses source information from. 

The title of their article leads JW members to automatically accept that they are being victimized by an "unconstitutional ruling." - Mark O'Donnell, former Jehovah's Witness.

Misleading the Public with Disinformation

In their public statement on their website, Jehovah’s Witnesses fail to provide readers with the March 4, 2024 court judgement of the Oslo District Court, so that they can determine the facts for themselves. 

Furthermore, the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses claim that they have been “denied legal recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country of Norway unless we change our practices regarding the removal of unrepentant wrongdoers from the congregation”. This statement is brazenly absurd, misleading and an attempt to spread disinformation regarding the reasons for being “denied legal recognition”. 

As stated above, the court recognizes the right of Jehovah’s Witnesses to determine who can be members of their religious community. However, the court in the same breath recognizes that Jehovah’s Witnesses violate the rights of the child as well as violate the freedom of religion of members by institutionally placing obstacles to their right and freedom to change their religion or belief. As a result, according to Sections 4 and 6 of the Religious Communities Act 2020, there is a legal basis for the Norwegian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be denied further State funding and religious de-registration. However, the leadership of Jehovah’s Witnesses does not state these factors in their March 28, 2024 public statement. Maybe they have a different version of the court judgement.

This is not the first attempt by Jehovah’s Witnesses to mislead and spread disinformation. Throughout their litigation battles in Norway, they have attempted to confuse and distort their religious practices. Nonetheless, “kings and all those who are in high positions” were able to give a fair and balanced judgment.

It must be emphasized that the Norwegian community of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not in any way restricted or banned. They still have the freedom to practice their religion, including the right to expel members, the right to shun and ostracize expelled members as well as the right to spread the message of Christ’s love for humanity.

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Lester Somrah

Lester Somrah writes about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses on his social media platforms and was baptized as a member in 1998.

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