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BEFORE THE APPEAL : WHAT IS HAPPENING BEHIND THE SCENES IN NORWAY


The CNE.news has come out with an article on the developments in Norway and the aftermath of the deregistration of the Watchtower there only last month. CNE stands for Christian News in Europe and it is a Christian news site for continental Europe that

Has been running since 2021 and has become one of the best-informed Christian news websites in Europe.

Here is what they had to say in a recent article titled "Jehovah’s Witnesses ease shunning rules after blow in Oslo court"

Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide have eased the discipline for youth members after “serious wrongdoing”. The new guideline came within two weeks after the decision of the Oslo District Court in Norway to strip the Jehovahs of their official status as a registered faith community. The faith community seems to be trying to get a better position in the appeal case in Norway. (=So that is why they announced changes so fast after they lost the court case, they are positioning themselves now before the appeal to the higher court in Norway or ECHR which ever court they choose, we don't know yet)

The community came under attack for its rigid rules regarding disfellowshipping “baptised minors”. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is quite common for have teenagers being baptised between 12 and 16 years. (=In fact I won't be surprised if they change that soon, and come out with another change for a minimum age for baptism, because you know that had gotten to be ridiculous with some children even being baptised as young as 6 years old in some countries. That has to come to an end purely based on this loss in Norway)

Religiously, they are seen as responsible members than, who can be disciplined. There have been cases of “disfellowshiping” after “serious wrongdoing”, resulting in “shunning”, isolation and contact bans. For individuals and families, this can be rigid and feel like psychological violence.

For the Norwegian state, this practice is controversial because those “baptised minors” are legally still kids. The state feels responsible for protecting the minors. After complaints of psychological violence, the authorities decided in 2021 to rip the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Norway from the legal status, which they had since 1985. According to experts, this is the first time a faith community lost its legal position in Norway.

This registration in Norway gives access to huge amounts of state subsidies. The monetary support is about NOK 16 million (1.3 million euros) every year. Over three years, together with interest, the JW demanded NOK 50 million (4.3 million euros).

With the de-registration, the Jehovah’s Witnesses also lost the right to perform civil marriages. Traditionally, marriages were performed by the Lutheran state church. Nowadays, all recognised faith communities (including the Humanist Society) can perform civil marriage.

Norwegian Jehovah's Witnesses demand subsidy despite their loss of religious status

The JW community in Norway –which consists of 12,000 members in 700 local congregations– went to court about the decision. The public sessions in court took two weeks in January.

Dozens of people involved came to testify how significant the damage of exclusion had been for them. Others came to tell of the fear of being excluded from the community in which they had lived and, therefore, remained within the community anyway. Some people told of years of pressure that led to lifelong emotional impact.

The conclusion was clear: disfellowshiping and shunning exists. However, legally, the central question was whether this is part of the community’s freedom of belief or whether it restricts the freedom of those (minors) involved.(= In other words the Watchtower is playing the victim trying to win the case on the basis of freedom of belief, whereas the Norwegian goverment is more interested in the freedom of belief of minors)

And could it be grounds for de-registration? This is a new field since this is the first group that has been deregistered on these grounds.

On March 4th, the judges confirmed the state’s position by deregistering the Watchtower and immediately after on the 28 of March the Jehovah’s announced their appeal.

“Simple greeting”

Before the appeal was made known, another announcement came from the Watchtower: “Adjustments to handling serious wrongdoing in the congregation”.(=The timing here is very important, the changes that Mark Sanderson announced took place BEFORE they announced that they are appealing the verdict. They are positioning themselves for a better verdict)

The new rules published in a video mid-March included a softening on disfellowshiping. Members may use their “Bible-trained conscience” to decide on a “simple greeting” to a person removed from the congregation. It is no longer expected “to ignore him completely”.

According to a confidential document that leaked to the critical platform Jehovahs-Witness.com, tthe disfellowshiping of baptised minors has been liberalised even further. From now on, only two elders meet with the person and his parents or guardians. Before, this was a committee. The elders “will exercise patience as they work with the parents to understand the minor’s attitude”. After this, they cooperate with the parents “to assist their child”.Before, there was just one meeting, after which the committee decided within two hours whether to take steps to “disfellowship” or not.

Haste

The new measures have been introduced with unusual haste. Usually, there is more time and rest in the procedure. That is remarkable because the organisation defended the then-current practice of disfellowshiping as Biblical only last December.(=That is important, and that should open every Jehovah’s Witness eyes that courts and court cases dictate doctrine, unlike ALL other Christian denomination that Bible dictates doctrines. It's all about the money these days!) A German lawyer who himself is part of the Jehovah’s Witnesses thinks it difficult not to see the connection with the Oslo court decision.(=even lawyers can make the connection!)

The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to have been active in Norway since the 1890s. In the early 1980s, they applied for registration. In those days, this was controversial within the community, since by doing that Jehovah's Witnrsses would accepted to be placed on the same level with other churches. However, the advantage was clear: the group would receive the same money as the state church and other groups.

Also, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have an official registration in other countries, like Germany and Italy. However, the conditions and financial benefits differ from country to country.

Disinformation

In Norway, the court case has been characterised as the most important judicial case on religious freedom in decades. Spokesman Jørgen Pederson of the Jehovah’s Witnesses didn't speak to the press but distributed a written statement after the decision.He said the decision by the judges about the “State’s offensive allegation” is “deeply disappointing". The state could “not provide a single verified example of a victimised child”. For him, this judgement confirms that Jehovah’s Witnesses are “often victims of disinformation”. (= Of course he will say that, they always play the victim of disinformation, when it was the last time they said, you know what you are right we will change out policies and comply with the law of the land, they will never do that!)

The case will continue in the appeal stages. Experts find it likely that the case might end in Strasbourg at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). (=I said that before, they have a case if they take it to ECHR. At the moment the ECHR is using the Watchtower as their poster child to showcase Russia's disregard of religious freedoms, and it is highly unlikely they will want to upset the Watchtower now)

The reaction to the court’s decision was mixed. Some welcomed the verdict. Freedom of religion can never be absolute, and the state must curtail long-term wrongdoings. Some were not impressed by Pederson’s comment that there was “not a single verified example” of abuse.Several academics stated that the freedom of religion is not at stake here since the Witnesses can still hold fast to their interpretation of the Scriptures and teach this in their gatherings. The scope of the disciplinary action against them is limited, but that is because the rights of others are at stake.

Some other reacted differently being more critical of the verdict. They did not defend the practice of shunning but still thought that this should be protected legally. The Baptist Standard, for instance, guessed that Norway might lose its reputation for human rights because of this intervention in a religious liberty.Also, Willy Fautré, director of the Brussels-based organisation Human Rights Without Frontiers, is concerned. “We see that there are more and more attempts in Europe by state institutions to interfere and intrude into the teachings and practices of religious groups, which is forbidden by the European Convention.”

The editor of the Christian daily Dagen, Vebjørn Selbekk, wrote in January that this case does intervene in the free interpretation of Scripture, since the understanding of disfellowshiping is a theological issue.

He finds it cowardly to take on the Witnesses now. They have no friends or allies in the Norwegian society. And since they are not voting, there is no political risk in doing this either. “But precisely in such cases, when the great majority applauds and rejoices that a religious community loses its rights, there is a special reason to be vigilant”, Selbekk wrote. “That’s how they do it in countries we don’t usually like to be compared to.”


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The professor in the Study of Religion at the University of Oslo, Dr. Dag Øistein Endsjø, is critical too, he says in an interview with CNE.news. “The state must guarantee equality. Suppose the state recognises one community and not the other. In that case, there is differential treatment that must be justified. This goes about tax money as well. As far as I can see, the state has not proven that such unequal treatment is justified, and thus, this may be a case of discrimination in relation to religious freedom.”

For Endsjø, it is “hard to deduce from the material” that the religious groups violate the rights of children. “If, however, this really was proven, the state would be right within its duties to always protect the best interest of the child, have to do much more to stop this practice than just withdrawing the registration and letting the rest go.”

According to Endsjø, one must always have the human rights protection of the autonomy of the faith community in mind. General rules on various forms of equality do, for instance, not apply within the theological dealings of a church. “The state does not have the right to enforce its own vision upon a religious group. If this is the case, the Norwegian state maybe should try next pressuring the Roman Catholic Church to accept female priests.” (=funny as it maybe I don't think this comparison is fitting, women are not little children or young teenagers, the Norwegian goverment is right to protect children from a predatory religion that uses disfellowshipping as a weapon to coerce people in staying as members against their will)


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