Norway de-registers Jehovah's Witnesses as a religious organization
"When the State Administrator attacks Jehovah's Witnesses, she stigmatizes more than 12,000 law-abiding and peaceful citizens," writes Jørgen Pedersen

Norway: Pedersen’s Propaganda

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES: The treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses by the authorities in the last two years has made this a topical issue on the subject of human rights, and will potentially have major consequences for Norway’s international reputation and the human rights of all Norwegian citizens.

Originally published in Norwegian on by Jørgen Pedersen, Chairman of Jehovah's Witnesses in Norway.

Let me first emphasize that protecting human rights (or human needs) is important for everyone, but especially for religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I also understand the complexity of a modern society, where several core issues often seem to collide, for example to counter violent extremism.

But when the State Administrator attacks Jehovah’s Witnesses, she stigmatizes more than 12,000 law-abiding and peaceful citizens, while claiming to protect victims who exist only in her own imagination.

ACCUSED OF DISCRIMINATION: ‘When the State Administrator attacks Jehovah’s Witnesses, she stigmatizes more than 12,000 law-abiding and peaceful citizens,’ writes Jørgen Pedersen. The state administrator answers this slur at the bottom of the article.

She is discriminating against a religious group that has been active in Norway since 1890 and registered since 1985. For more information on the case itself, see my opinion piece published in Vårt Land on 17 March 2022.

After receiving letters from two or three people who disagree with our religious beliefs, the State Administrator clearly thought it was her job to read and interpret religious texts, and based on her own interpretation of these, decided to deny us state aid and registration. As far as I know, no other internationally recognized religious community in Norway has fallen victim to such treatment by the authorities. Among the more than 700 registered religious communities, as far as I know, only the religious texts of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been interpreted.

Exposed to threats and harassment

After the decision to deny Jehovah’s Witnesses state support, there have been several cases of violence, vandalism, threats, and even arson against people who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and against our meeting places. The Ministry of Children and Families says that various government offices have received almost 2,000 letters from various Jehovah’s Witnesses (who are also taxpayers) following the decision to refuse state subsidies. Are these 2,000 letters worth less than the letters from the two or three people who wrote to the Governor and disagree with our beliefs?

As mentioned, there are more than 12,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway, and their sincere beliefs are publicly attacked by the Norwegian authorities. The Norwegian authorities’ decision to punish more than 12,000 citizens for adhering to a Bible-based teaching, which Jesus Christ himself instituted, is in practice precisely the behaviour they claim to combat: forcing someone to follow a certain behaviour due to fear of being pressured or punished.

Professional studies have shown that Jehovah’s Witnesses “show a high respect for life and human dignity,” and that our teaching is “characterized by wider freedom of choice and freedom of personal decisions”.

Human rights

It also appears that there is some confusion in the public sphere, including among politicians and journalists, about what human rights are in this context. The following quotes from human rights experts may be of help.

“The challenge is that Schmitt is right, but does not stand for any positive alternative”

Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, the former UN special rapporteur for freedom of religion and belief, has said the following: “Human rights do not give the state the mandate to enforce inner-religious reforms, for instance with the intention of opening them up for the adoption of human rights principles into their internal teaching and preaching.”

In the book, Religion and human rights (pp. 48-49), Professor Dag Øistein Endsjø says: “The individual’s freedom of religion is instead guaranteed by the absolute right to leave a religious community with which one does not agree.” Concerning religious autonomy, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has recently confirmed: “States do not have the right under the Convention to decide what beliefs may or may not be taught because the right to freedom of religion as guaranteed under the Convention excludes any discretion on the part of the State to determine whether religious beliefs or the means used to express such beliefs are legitimate”.

Over the years, several international professional studies confirmed that Jehovah’s Witnesses have “a high level of social integration,” and “contribut[e] in many different ways to the growth, cohesion, and prosperity of society”.

Violations of religious freedom are often followed by violations of other human rights

Our Bible-based, personal conviction motivates us to be peaceful, and to show respect and kindness to all people regardless of their age, ethnicity, religion, social status, sexual orientation, and gender, which many Norwegian residents can confirm. The state administrator insists that refusing state grants and registration is not an attempt to pressure or influence our beliefs. If that is true, then what is the point of denying Jehovah’s Witnesses government subsidies and deregistering us?

If our faith remains unchanged, then what has the State Trustee accomplished? The ECtHR has flatly rejected Russia’s use of deregistration (and other things) to force Jehovah’s Witnesses to comply. In a recent decision of 7 June 2022, in the case Taganrog LRO and Others v. Russia, the ECtHR stated that Russia’s “policy of intolerance … towards the religious practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses” (§254), was a violation of several of the articles of the ECHR.

It is worth noting that the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry recently defended Russia’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by comparing what Russia is doing to Norway’s decision to deregister us as a religious community. We hope that the Norwegian authorities do not continue on that course.

As history has clearly shown, violations of religious freedom often lead to violations of other human rights, which will affect all Norwegian citizens, not just those who belong to a particular religious community. As Jan Figel, the EU’s former special envoy for freedom of religion and belief, said: “Freedom of religion or belief is a litmus test of civil and political rights. When it is not respected, other human rights are not guaranteed either.”

The State Administrator and the Ministry of Children and Families seem to be talking down on the importance of this principle. Norwegian citizens should be deeply concerned if the authorities are allowed to trample on human rights (human needs), regardless of whether it is due to misunderstandings or simply prejudice.

The State Administrator’s response:

‘To claim that I am “protecting victims who only exist in my own imagination”, I think that is quite gross,’ says state administrator Valgerd Svarstad Haugland to Vårt Land.

‘This has been dealt with in our legal department and is based on Norwegian legislation,’ elaborates the state administrator. ‘No one has deprived Jehovah’s Witnesses of the right to be Jehovah’s Witnesses and practice their faith,’ she emphasizes.

‘But we have deprived them of financial support and registration because we believe that their exclusion practices are on a collision course with Norwegian law,’ says Haugland.