Jan Responds to Jehovah's Witnesses
Jan Frode Nilsen responds to Jehovah's Witnesses letter to the State Administrator dated 14 December 2022

NORWAY: Nilsen responds to Jehovah’s Witnesses

On December 14, 2022 the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious group sent a 10 page letter to the State Administrator in Oslo & Viken. It is in response to a previous letter issued by the State Administrator on October 25, 2022. This response from Jehovah’s Witnesses includes 67 points, including a brief history of the group in Norway.

Jan Nilsen sent the State Administrator a response to this letter on December 20, 2022. In an effort to be helpful, he also sent a copy of his response to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We present the key points of the December 14th letter below with Nilsen’s responses.

Jan’s responses are presented in white text on grey background. Additional information is provided in blue text.

"Strange, fraudulent & shameless"

In paragraphs 1 & 2 of the letter, the Jehovah’s Witnesses refer to the 25th October letter where the State Administrator (SA) has given the group 4 weeks to “rectify the circumstances that led to the denial of grants” or the latter will “take a decision to withdraw the registration”. The Jehovah’s Witnesses thank the SA for extending the deadline from 4 weeks to 8 weeks.

In paragraphs 3 to 5, the religious group repeat their request for the SA to postpone the de-registration until the case has been fully processed by the Administrator or there is a final judgment.

From paragraphs 6 to 18, a brief history of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is given to the SA. It states that the group have been active in Norway since 1890 . In 1941, Nazi-occupied Norway persecuted the Jehovah’s Witnesses until the after the war was over. They were formally registered as a religious group since late 1985 and have enjoyed such a registration for over 30 years. Other issues they bring up that Norway has dealt with in the past include child custody, voting in elections, and the repeated issue with disfellowshipping.

Paragraphs 2 to 13 describe the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ history prior to [the Religious Communities Act] LOV-2020-04-24-31 coming into force. Paragraphs 14-17 [of their letter] describes the process, which is then a result of this law. Jehovah’s Witnesses describe it as if the change happened because I, Rolf Furuli and NN sent in a letter {to the State Administrator]. However, they make no mention of [the Religious Communities Act]. It appears strange, fraudulent and shameless. I expect that everyone involved notices what they are doing here.

Paragraph 18 describes the Gry case, and serves well as a confirmation of what the consequences of JV’s practice are. The fact that HR did not judge to override JV’s process against her has nothing to do with LOV-2020-04-24-31. Rather, the case serves as confirmation that ostracism has dire consequences.

The Religious Communities Act (LOV-2020-03-24-31) can be viewed in it’s entirety here: Religious Communities Act

Paragraphs 14 to 17 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter that Nilsen refers to:

14. On 15 April 2021, the Ministry of Children and Families again wrote to the State Administrator with a call to assess Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious disfellowshipping practices in connection with registration and state subsidies. The inquiry came as a result of a letter from the same disgruntled ex-Witness concerning his theological interpretation of certain selected extracts from religious publications published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

15. On 27 May 2021, the State Administrator asked Jehovah’s Witnesses to submit their comments. On 23 June 2021, Jehovah’s Witnesses sent their comments to the State Administrator.

16. In a letter of 15 September 2021, the State Administrator started an investigation and postponed the processing of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ claim for state subsidies. After asking for clarification on what the investigations were about, Jehovah’s Witnesses sent their comments on the various issues raised by the disgruntled former Witnesses in their letter of November 19, 2021.

17.  On 27 January 2022, the State Administrator decided to deprive Jehovah’s Witnesses of the right to state subsidies, which Jehovah’s Witnesses had received continuously for the past 30 years.

Paragraph 18 of the letter:

18.      On 3 May 2022, Norway’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Jehovah’s Witnesses have the right to practice disfellowshipping – see HR-2022-883-A par. 47:

“It is up to the community itself to decide who should be a member, including making decisions about disfellowshipping. At the same time, it is emphasized that the right to free exercise of religion for individuals, which is also protected by Article 9, is secured by the right for the individual to leave a religious community. Freedom of religion does not give anyone the right to become a member or to remain a member of a particular religious community”

"Shocking"!

The religious activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses are described in paragraphs 19-22. They mention that there are 165 congregations, more than 12000 members, and over 19000 that regularly attend meetings. In paragraph 21, they market some of their articles geared towards children, youths and families. The purpose of this exercise is indicated in paragraph 22: the threat to deprive them of registration is shocking.

Considering paragraphs 20-22, it is certainly undisputed that Jehovah’s Witnesses publish material that is intended to make children and young people behave “nicely”. No one has claimed otherwise. The question is, what to do with those who fail to live up to these requirements?

Paragraphs 20 to 22 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter:

20. In Norway, there are currently more than 12,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses distributed among over 165 congregations, and over 19,000 are regularly present at our religious meetings. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach people to live according to the moral values and principles of the Bible. This includes helping individuals overcome drug addiction, alcoholism and smoking.

21. Jehovah’s Witnesses are very interested in promoting a happy family life and the emotional and physical welfare of children. For that reason, they have published and distributed a large amount of free articles and videos for parents, teenagers and younger children. For example:

22. It is therefore shocking that the State Administrator threatens to deprive Jehovah’s Witnesses of their registration for, among other things, violations of children’s rights

"Elders do not exercise control"

Paragraphs 23 to 40 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter are directed at the January 27, 2022 decision to deprive them of state funding. They start by asserting that they will not change their religious beliefs and practices in Norway. They list a number of court cases where the ECHR has confirmed them as a “known religion”.  

Instead of repeating answers, they refer the State Administrator to previous letters from 2019 to August 2022.

They claim that they do not force or coerce their children to serve God.  They claim that this has been confirmed by the ECHR “in its historic decision”. 

The aforementioned is used to claim that they comply with Sections 2 and 3 of the Religious Communities Act. 

They go on to say that the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ practice of baptism is based on maturity and not a specific age.

Elders, it is claimed, do not do not exercise control over how those in the congregation choose to live. However, they admit that the elders “set up a religious judicial committee to assess whether” such a person is practicing “brazen conduct”, a term used to describe those who associate with disfellowshipped non-relatives, despite “repeated attempts” by the elders instructing them not to.

They further claim that someone having “unnecessary association with a relative … would not have to appear before a religious judicial committee unless” they were having religious discussions or were “constantly and openly” critizing the disfellowshipping decision. 

Paragraphs 32-34 completely skip discussing what Jehovah’s Witnesses do to children who no longer wish to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. To change one’s mind, to change one’s course of life, to change religion is a basic human right. The [State Administrator and the Minister for Children and Families] have determined what the punishment Jehovah’s Witnesses mete out towards children.

Considering paragraph 35, if all other religions in Norway are able to worship just fine without ostracizing their children, how can it be called, “absurd consequences”?

Considering paragraph 36, do the Jehovah’s Witnesses really think that it is an unrealistic scenario that young people under the age of 18 will find themselves in a situation where they can be ostracized for sexual acts, alcohol use, tobacco or cannabis? What kind of world does this letter writer live in?

Paragraphs 37-39 confirm our stories and claims. It is what we have been saying all along. The disfellowshipping is not up to each individual. Those who do not comply and do not shun risk being disfellowshipped themselves. The Jehovah’s Witnesses describe the process in detail in these sections. If you do not follow the “direction” it will be graded as “brazen conduct”, which in turn result in a judicial committee and disfellowshipping. See the end of paragraph 39: the person must “repent” from making contact with their child to avoid problems. That is, disconnect [from their loved one].

When reviewing paragraph 40, I ask you to think about all the available documentation you have and ask yourselves if the judge [in the Ghent Court of Appeal] has the knowledge [the State Administrator has] when [writing their decision]. Incidentally, this is from a criminal case where it was to be assessed whether Jehovah’s Witnesses’ practice of shunning was  punishable under the Discrimination law. It is not relevant to the debate here.

Paragraphs 32 to 34 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter:

32. The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ practice of baptism, which is based on maturity and not a specific age, also harmonizes with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 14 no. 1 states that “The parties shall respect the child’s right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”. Article 14 no. 2 provides: “The parties shall respect the right and duty of the parents, or guardians, to guide the child in the exercise of his or her rights in a manner that is consistent with the child’s gradual development.” (Highlighted by us).

33. In the report from the UN special rapporteur for freedom of religion and belief, to which the preparatory work for the Religious Communities Act also refers[1], it is explained that: “From a certain age or maturity, children deserve respect when making their own decisions, whether positive or negative, concerning participation in acts of worship, ceremonies or other religious community activities. Depending on his or her evolving capacities, a child may also be able to exercise his or her right to have or adopt a religion or belief of his or her own choice.” (Interim report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, A/70/286, 5 August 2015, para. 54)

34. The report goes on to say: “Some States have defined fixed age thresholds for the child’s exercise of certain elements of freedom of religion or belief, for example concerning opting out of religious instruction or converting to another faith with or without the agreement of the parents. However, given the dynamic nature of the child’s ‘evolving capacities’, it is preferable to avoid fixed definitions and instead take decisions on a case-by-case basis, with respect to each individual child’s personal situation and maturity.” (sec. 55)

Paragraph 35:

35. The maturity needed to understand what it means to be baptized as one of Jehovah’s witnesses naturally also includes the ability to be responsible for the actions one undertakes after baptism. (See Jehovah’s Witnesses’ complaint dated February 17, 2022, paragraph 32.) Otherwise, a minor could have the right to be baptized, but not have to follow the norms and requirements that society has set in order to be a member, until he or she is coming of age. At the same time, the criminal minimum age is still 15 years. This could lead to absurd consequences that could never have been the legislator’s intentions. To illustrate: A 17-year-old could openly and in all public life have a habit of getting drunk and be punished for this by the police, but at the same time remain “untouchable” in the congregation. The teenager would thus be allowed to remain an active member of the congregation until he or she turned 18, and only then would the congregation be able to take religious steps.

Paragraph 36

36. It is also worth bearing in mind that the younger a minor is, the more unlikely it is that he or she will be involved in a serious sin, and at least a serious sin for which he or she does not repent, something which is the only thing that can lead to disfellowshipping. Serious sins usually involve adultery, sexual immorality, drug or alcohol abuse, or the abuse of tobacco or marijuana. (See Jehovah’s Witnesses Complaint dated February 17, 2022, paragraphs 35-39.)

Paragraphs 37-39:

37. Finally, in a meeting with representatives from the State Administrator’s office on 1 December 2022, questions were asked whether one of Jehovah’s witnesses could be disfellowshipped for associating with a disfellowshipped person or someone who has chosen to disassociate from the congregation. The answer to this depends entirely on the facts and circumstances.

38. As we have repeatedly mentioned in our previous inquiries to the State Administrator, the congregation’s elders do not exercise control over how those in the congregation choose to live, nor do they exercise control over the individual’s faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24; Galatians 6:5; James 5:14) In the event that the elders should somehow find out that someone in the congregation was knowingly, persistently and unnecessarily having association with a non-relative who was disfellowshipped or had chosen to disassociate from the congregation, they would have given the person loving biblical advice and guidance. If the person should choose to continue with this despite repeated attempts to guide him or her, the elders would set up a religious judicial committee to assess whether the person could be said to be practicing what the Bible refers to as “brazen conduct”. (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:11, 13; Galatians 5:19; 2 John 10, 11) That person would only have been disfellowshipped from the congregation if he had practiced “brazen conduct” without repenting.

39. If the elders somehow learned that someone belonging to the congregation was known to have unnecessary association with a relative who is not part of the household, and who is disfellowshipped or has chosen to disassociate from the congregation, the person would not have to appear before a religious judicial committee unless there was a question of continuing spiritual communion or if the person constantly and openly criticized the decision of disfellowshipping. Even then, the elders would try to help the person in a friendly way to change his attitude. It would only result in disfellowshipping if that person did not repent.

Paragraph 40:

40. Among all the evidence that we have already submitted to the State Administrator and the Ministry of Children and Families regarding the legality of the Bible-based practice of limiting or avoiding contact with former Jehovah’s Witnesses, exercised by the individual Jehovah’s Witness, we would like to draw your attention in particular to the conclusion to the Ghent Court of Appeal in Belgium in its decision C/797/2022 (7 June 2022): “[I]t is beyond dispute that Article 9 of the ECHR gives a religious community the right not to tolerate criticism and to disfellowship those who no longer agree with the doctrines of the community” (section 2.6.8); “[a]s far as disfellowshipped minors are concerned, the shunning policy appears to be limited to no longer allowing the minor to actively participate in the daily family Bible study. It is doubtful whether the minor concerned will experience this as a serious ordeal.” (section 2.12.7)

"Violation of freedom"

Paragraphs 42 to 53 outline why the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the loss of state funding and the threat of de-registration are a violation of freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. 

Referring to Articles 9 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, they quote from decisions regarding Russia, Austria, Armenia, Belgium and others. 

They claim that the de-registration of the group “will not contribute at all to achieving the alleged goal of protecting children’s rights or the rights and freedoms of others.” They give two reasons: (1) They are adhering to the same beliefs and procedures as they have done since 1985, and (2) they are not going to change their beliefs and methods just to satisfy the State Administrator.

From paragraphs 42 to 52, the Jehovah’s Witnesses enter Putin’s Russia and other dictatorships. It is an insult to compare the loss of state funding and other privileges provided by the Norwegian state administration and those of us involved with a dictatorship where Jehovah’s Witnesses and other groups are thrown in prison. The judgments they cite must also be seen in this context. Of course, the European Court of Justice will protect the Jehovah’s Witnesses from such [religious persecution]. I myself would fight for my Jehovah’s Witness family’s freedom if this was the scenario we were discussing.

Looking closer at paragraph 52, do Jehovah’s Witnesses think that the number of letters [issued to the State Administrator] is an argument in itself? Mobilizing thousands of members to write [to the State Administrator] to influence a case is not something you want to encourage, is it? We on the other side could of course do the same, but we have not wanted to overwhelm the case handlers more than necessary. In any case, our arguments are well grounded in Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own literature.

Looking at paragraph 53, do the Jehovah’s Witnesses really think that there is an argument that if the person in question does not want to comply with the law anyway, then any consequences are meaningless? Then one might as well drop the penalty for breaking the law? It would be interesting if this argument [were to] set a legal precedent.

Paragraphs 42 to 52 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter:

42. There is no doubt that deregistering Jehovah’s Witnesses would amount to an interference with freedom of religion and assembly in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) articles 9 and 11.

43. In the case Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, referred to above, para. 172, the ECHR stated that “the refusal of re-registration disclosed an interference with the religious organisation’s right to freedom of association and also with its right to freedom of religion in so far as the [domestic legislation] restricted the ability of a religious association without legal-entity status to exercise the full range of religious activities”.

44. In sec. 102 in the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow case, the court referred to “the panoply of rights” that registered religious communities have. If the State Administrator withdraws Jehovah’s Witnesses’ registration, it will deprive the religious community of “the panoply of rights” that other registered religious communities in Norway have. This includes, among other things, rights such as that representatives of the religious community are given the right to perform weddings, and that the community may receive state subsidies.

45. In the case Religionsgemeinschaft der Zeugen Jehovas and Others v. Austria, referred to above, para. 61, the court said: “Indeed, the autonomous existence of religious communities is indispensable for pluralism in a democratic society and is, thus, an issue at the very heart of the protection which Article 9 affords.” Furthermore, it was said: “Where the organization of the religious community was at issue, a refusal to recognize it has also been found to constitute interference with the applicants’ right to freedom of religion under Article 9 of the Convention.” (par. 62) (See also Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow, referred to above, par. 101.)

46. In this case, deregistration of Jehovah’s Witnesses would neither be “prescribed by law” nor be “necessary in a democratic society”.

47. Neither the Religious Communities Act nor the Religious Communities Regulations give the State Administrator or its case handlers the authority to interpret or evaluate the beliefs and procedures of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Neither can they. The state’s duty to be neutral and impartial “excludes any discretion on its part to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate”. The ECHR has repeatedly confirmed that “only the highest spiritual authorities of a religious community, and not the State (nor the national courts), may determine” matters concerning religious teachings and beliefs. The authorities do not have access to assess a religious community’s “doctrinal sources”. (Bektashi Community and Others v. the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, nos. 48044/10 and 2 others, paras. 24-27, 33 and 72, April 12, 2018; see also Christian Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the NKR v. Armenia, no. 41817/10, sec. 71, 76, 22 March 2022; and Anderlecht Christian Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Others v. Belgium, no. 20165/20, sec. 31, 5 April 2022)

48. In the decision of 27 January 2022 on state subsidies, the State Administrator based a large part on the term “negative social control”. But neither the Religious Communities Act nor the Religious Communities Regulations provide any clear definition of the criteria the State Administrator must use to determine whether there is “negative social control”. The ECHR has established what a law must contain in order to be protected against “arbitrary interferences by public authorities with the rights safeguarded by the Convention”: “The law must indicate with sufficient clarity the scope of any such discretion conferred on the competent authorities and the manner of its exercise.” (Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria, [GC] no. 30985/96, § 84, ECHR 2000-XI)

49. In order to justify a decision on loss of registration, the State Administrator must also state “convincing and compelling reasons”. (Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow, referred to above, spar. 100)

50. Loss of registration is undoubtedly a “drastic sanction”, which “should be applied only in exceptional circumstances of very serious misconduct”. (Tebieti Mühafize Cemiyyeti and Israfilov v. Azerbaijan, no. 37083/03, § 63, ECHR 2009) In this case, no evidence whatsoever of “misconduct”, let alone “very serious misconduct”, has been presented. The state administrator has not referred to any relevant court decisions against the religious community or its members, nor to reports to the police, child protection or other relevant authorities. Instead of basing its assessment on evidence, as §6 of the Religious Communities Act requires, the State Administrator has based it on its own theological interpretation of religious literature and on statements by disgruntled former members.

51. The state administrator’s conclusions “did not mention the name of a single individual who had allegedly fallen victim” for the alleged violations. “Nor was there any specific evidence to support the allegation that Jehovah’s Witnesses” have exercised coercion or negative social control. The conclusions were “based on conjecture uncorroborated by fact”. (Christian Religious Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the NKR v. Armenia, referred to above, para. 74)

52. It is interesting that in the Taganrog case, mentioned above, the local Russian courts had received evidence both from individual Jehovah’s Witnesses and from people who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses (from other religious communities). Despite this, the ECHR concluded that the courts’ assessment of the evidence was “tainted by bias”: “the Regional Court refused to accept it, finding the members of the Taganrog LRO to be inherently unreliable witnesses, while at the same time accepting as reliable the evidence from the aggrieved non-believer spouses and a member of an Orthodox entity” (cited above, par. 74). In comparison, how would the ECHR consider the State Administrator’s reliance on letters from two or three disgruntled former Jehovah’s Witnesses, while ignoring the hundreds of letters[1] allegedly submitted by members of the religious community about their personal experiences?

53. If the State Administrator deprives Jehovah’s Witnesses of their registration, this will not contribute at all to achieving the alleged goal of protecting children’s rights or the rights and freedoms of others. There are two main reasons for that:

  • Firstly: The status quo confirms that the beliefs and procedures have not violated anyone’s rights and freedoms, not even children’s rights, in Norway. Jehovah’s Witnesses basically adhere to the same beliefs and procedures as they have done since they were registered in Norway in 1985. No new circumstances have arisen that necessitate loss of registration. In a letter dated 18 November 2019, the State Administrator also stated that it had assessed the religious disfellowshipping practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and confirmed the same as it had done in its previous decisions in 1999 and 2012: “The disfellowshipping practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not affected by provisions in the Act on Religious Communities.”
  • Secondly: Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway are not going to change their beliefs and methods just to satisfy the State Administrator. This means that the beliefs and procedures that the State Trustee dislikes will continue to stand.

"Violation of property rights"

In paragraphs 54 and 55, we come to the core issue of why the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe the de-registration is a “violation of freedoms”. It is because “they will automatically lose the state subsidy”. 

Ignoring the fact that there is a new law that was implemented in Norway, they refer to a totally different country – Bulgaria – to claim a “legitimate expectation” of receiving state funding as before. They also claim that they have a “legitimate expectation” to be treated in the same was as other religious communities. In other words, “if other religions can get state funding, so should we, even if we shun and they don’t.”

From a read of paragraph 55, do the Jehovah’s Witnesses think that the whole new law is dead? If they have received state subsidies in the past, are they still entitled to them? Even if [the government] adopts new conditions, precisely to be able to address these demands? Does this also apply to other laws that may come?

Paragraph 55 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter:

55. As Jehovah’s Witnesses have been present in Norway for over 120 years and have continuously received state subsidies for over 30 years, they have a “legitimate expectation” of receiving the same state subsidy as before. (“Bulves” AD v. Bulgaria, no. 3991/03, § 53, 22 January 2009). Jehovah’s Witnesses also have a “legitimate expectation” to be treated in the same way as other religious communities.

"Discrimination"!

Paragraphs 56 to 62 lay out the reasons why the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they are being discriminated against by the Norwegian government. They claim it is a violation of Article 14 read together with Articles 9 & 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.  They say discrimination is against the law so they must not remove state funding or de-register them.

Again they refer to ECHR decisions in Austria, Hungary, Turkey, Lithuania and Belgium but fail to establish how the new law discriminates against as they conveniently omit any mention of it.

They simply say that the State Administrator has not blocked any of the other 739 registered religious communities as far as they know.  Furthermore they state that this treatment implies that “their beliefs and practices are harmful to society”.

Paragraphs 56-62 ignore the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are fully capable of performing all forms of its worship without the registration and state support. The judgments are therefore irrelevant.

Paragraphs 56 to 62 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter:

56. If the State Administrator deprives Jehovah’s Witnesses of their registration on the basis described in the decision of 27 January 2022, this will involve discrimination on religious grounds. It is a violation of Article 14 ECHR read together with Articles 9 and 11 and ECHR P1-1.

57. According to Section 24 of the Equality and Discrimination Act, public authorities must “prevent discrimination” and “counteract stereotyping”. This obligation also applies to the State Administrator. Discriminating Jehovah’s Witnesses on religious grounds is therefore against the law.

58. In the case Religionsgemeinschaft der Zeugen Jehovas and Others v. Austria, referred to above, the ECHR said that the Austrian authorities had discriminated against Jehovah’s Witnesses on religious grounds. The ECHR explained that “if a State sets up a framework for conferring legal personality on religious groups to which a specific status is linked, all religious groups which so wish must have a fair opportunity to apply for this status and the criteria established must be applied in a non-discriminatory manner”. (para. 92) (See also Magyar Keresztény Mennonita Egyház and Others v. Hungary, nos. 70945/11, 23611/12, 26998/12, 41150/12, 41155/12, 41463/12, 41553/12, 54977/ 12 and 56581/12, § 107, ECHR 2014; İzzettin Doğan and Others v. Turkey, [GC], no. 62649/10, para 165, 26 April 2016; Ancient Baltic Religious Association Romuva v. Lithuania, no. 48329 /19, para. 126, 8 June 2021; and Anderlecht Christian Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Others v. Belgium, cited above, para. 33.)

59. Discrimination can mean two things. Firstly, it can mean to “treat differently persons in analogous situations without providing an objective and reasonable justification”. (Paulík v. Slovakia, no. 10699/05, para. 51, ECHR 2006-XI (excerpt)) Secondly, there may be discrimination “when States without an objective and reasonable justification fail to treat differently persons whose situations are significantly different”. (Thlimmenos v. Greece [GC], no. 34369/97, para. 44, ECHR 2000-IV)

60. In this case, depriving Jehovah’s Witnesses of their registration on the grounds that their beliefs and methods are harmful to Norwegian society would constitute discrimination in both senses.

61. Jehovah’s Witnesses are in the same position as the other 739 registered religious communities. But the State Administrator has not come up with a negative characterization of the beliefs and procedures of any other religious community in Norway, far less deprived them of registration, as far as we know.

62. Depriving Jehovah’s Witnesses of their registration will also be discriminatory in the sense that Jehovah’s Witnesses will be treated in the same way as “persons whose situations are significantly different”. By withdrawing the registration, the authorities will treat Jehovah’s Witnesses in a way that would imply that their beliefs and practices are harmful to society, even if there is no evidence of this, and even if other religious communities follow similar practices.

"Stigmatization and incitement to discrimination"

In the final five paragraphs, the Jehovah’s Witnesses lay out why the deprivation of funding and the de-registration will leave them open to vulnerability. 

Quoting a case in Hungary, they claim that it “may amplify prejudices” and they mention that a kingdom hall in Norway was subjected to vandalism.

They attempt to describe the situation in Norway as being similar to the “policy of intolerance” in Russia but then back-track by saying “the situation in Russia is undoubtedly more serious”.

Ultimately, the aim of the letter is to urge the State Administrator to reconsider its position and allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to continue to be registered as a religious community.

Paragraph 63 is extremely fraudulent. The incident was committed by an acquaintance of the police who has also previously committed criminal acts against Jehovah’s Witnesses, including bomb threats. The incident is not related to the process surrounding the state aid, as Jehovah’s Witnesses portray it. None of us involved have ever encouraged or supported such criminal acts. There is nothing to suggest that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are threatened by this process.

Finally, referring to paragraph 66, do the Jehovah’s Witnesses really think that Norway is on its way to becoming Putin’s Russia if [the Religious Communities Act] LOV-2020-04-24-31 is to be followed?

Paragraphs 63 and 66 of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ letter:

63. Following the State Administrator’s decision on 27 January 2022, at least one Kingdom Hall (where Jehovah’s Witnesses hold their religious meetings) in Norway has been subjected to vandalism. If the State Administrator deprives Jehovah’s Witnesses of their registration, it will undoubtedly lead to further stigmatization of a religious minority that is already vulnerable.

66. While the situation in Russia is undoubtedly more serious than the withdrawal of registration, which the State Administrator has threatened, it began with deregistration (and a refusal to be re-registered). The state administrator exposes Jehovah’s Witnesses to a “stark and impossible choice”: either to change their sincere religious beliefs and practices or to lose the registration that they have had for more than 30 years

Jason Wynne

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.

Read more from Jason

One Response

  1. So the Watchtower/JWs have been shunning individuals and destroying families for thirty years while continuing to receive state funding. Is that any reason for ECHR to continue to permit their destructive cultish behavior with impunity? JWs public relations team spins a good story. But the destroyed families in their wake have a valid story to tell, too. Watchtower is correct that each case is different. Yet, Watchtower continues to divert attention away from the abuses they inflict on ex-members. Ex-members are disgruntled for valid reasons. Victims of Watchtower have every right to change their beliefs, without Watchtower destroying those families. Victims of Watchtower have every right to make personal choices without interference, threats, or intimidation. Will Watchtower be permitted with impunity to continue their hurtful and destructive practices? Which begs the question: will the ECHR continue to enable such abuses. To be fair, the question remains: will ECHR hear the victims’ stories, which are valid?

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