Oslo Court Revokes Jehovah's Witnesses' Request to Suspend Deregistration
Map of Norway including Olso & Viken regions with Oslo District Court building in the background

Norwegian Court Revokes Jehovah’s Witnesses Request to Suspend Deregistration

OSLO, NORWAY: On April 26, 2023, the Oslo District Court  revoked Jehovah’s Witnesses’ temporary injunction that they obtained on December 30, 2022. The temporary injunction was in place to suspend the government’s attempt to deregister Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious community in Norway.

Written by Jason Wynne, first published April 27, 2023, 11:00 pm.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believed the injunction was necessary because the County Governor of Oslo and Viken announced her decision to revoke their national registration. The injunction was obtained to allow them to keep their registration until the matter is further considered by the court. However, On April 26, after the Ministry of Children and Families (the State) challenged their injunction, the injunction has been revoked and the State has been awarded costs.

The district courts revocation of the injunction has immediate but slight implications for engaged couples. In Norway, the government only appoints religious wedding officiants from registered religious communities. When the government announced that it would be deregistering Jehovah’s Witnesses, it meant that the group’s officiants would lose their appointment and authorization. The temporary injunction permitted Jehovah’s Witnesses to continue as officiants. However, as the injunction has been revoked and has immediate effect, Jehovah’s Witnesses are no longer recognized as officiants.

Prior to Norway’s decision to deregister Jehovah’s Witnesses, the government had denied them State grants, worth about $1.6million, which they had been receiving for more than 30 years. These grants offered financial assistance that the government distributed to over 700 registered religious denominations in the country. According to financial statements available to access here, the Jehovah’s Witnesses never made use of those grants in Norway. Instead, they were sent overseas to be used by other cooperating entities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. On December 21, 2022, Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a lawsuit against the Norwegian government, challenging the denial of State grants.

The government of Norway objects to aspects of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ practice of disfellowshipping. In their opinion, shunning of former members prevents the right to freedom of expression, and is contrary to Section 2 of the Norwegian Religious Associations Act. Jehovah’s Witnesses also permit disfellowshipping of baptized minors. This means that children can be expelled if they break the group’s rules. According to the government, this is negative social control and violates children’s rights. Also, unbaptized children who break the group’s rules may be exposed to social isolation. This too can be perceived as negative social control and a violation of children’s rights, and a violation of Article 6 of Norway’s Religious Communities Act.

The governor stated that the loss of registration does not hinder religious freedom. Jørgen Pedersen, a member of the Scandinavia Branch Committee, had the Office of Public Information write up the following for him to regurgitate:  “Jehovah’s Witnesses have peacefully worshipped in Norway for more than 130 years. Our fundamental rights and freedoms are protected by the Norwegian Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. If the Norwegian courts rule in our favour, it would further solidify the rights and freedoms of all citizens of Norway.”

In court documents relating to the revocation of the temporary injunction, the State claims that Jehovah’s Witnesses “have clear calls to comply with the guidelines that apply to disfellowshipping… Here it appears that the practice of disfellowshipping violates the child’s “core emotional needs”. Testimony has been given about mental illness and fear of losing the family… It must be emphasized that the texts from Jehovah’s Witnesses … are clearly worded. These are almost instructions on behaviour with little ambiguity in them. Jehovah’s Witnesses have not offered any alternative interpretation during the court proceedings of these specific texts… One is faced with a disfellowshipping practice which means that members are prevented from opting out of the religious community.”

The temporary injunction order obtained by Jehovah’s Witnesses on December 30, 2022 is revoked. Jehovah’s Witnesses are ordered to pay $22,735 in legal costs to the state within two weeks.

Download an English translation of the District Court’s Judgment. This 34-page document took over 8 hours to translate. If you appreciate the work involved, please consider sending a coffee to the translator. 

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