In 2012 the Norwegian Church will be allowed to elect its own leaders, and the ties between state and church will be loosened. However, this is contingent on increased democracy in the church.
Text: Even Gran
Published: April 18. 2008
All the parties of the Norwegian National Assembly (Stortinget) have now agreed on the future of the state church.
The chart for a new state church establishment was submitted during a press conference Thursday, April 10th.
The church will be allowed to appoint its own bishops as from 2012, but the presupposition is that the church has undertaken a preceding democracy reform.
The requirements of this reform is defined in the settlement which will be submitted to the cabinet meeting tomorrow as follows:
"The reform will be executed with a starting point in the report of the Bakkevig committee. The reform shall include the introduction of concrete alternatives, increased use of direct elections and church elections concurrent with public elections. Various organisation models should be attempted and evaluated in cooperation with the bodies and agencies of the church, prior to the Storting's approval of the final provisions governing elections to the Church Meeting and the Diocese Council".
The settlement presupposes that a democracy reform in line with this definition has been completed in the Norwegian Church during 2011.
Furthermore, Article 2 of the Constitution will be adjusted. The phrase stating that "the evangelical-lutheran religion" shall be the religion of the state, will be replaced by a paragraph stating that "The articles of faith remain our Christian and humanistic heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state founded on legal protection and the articles of human rights."
Other clauses in the settlement:
- The church retains the management of burials and funerals, in contradiction to the report of the Gjønnes Committee.
- The King will still be obliged to embrace the Christian faith.
- Religious freedom is legally protected by the Constitution.
- The obligation of the state to support all faith- and life stance associations is legally protected by the Constitution.
- The Norwegian Church has no membership fee.
- The responsibility of the municipalities to provide unbiased life stance ceremonial locations shall be legally protected.
- The provision stipulating that at least one half of the members of the government must be members of the state church will be deleted.
- The church shall not be defined as a subject of legal rights and duties.
The democracy reform is an important pillar for the Labour Party
At the beginning of today's press conference, Church minister Trond Giske (Labour) promised that the intention is that the church itself shall be allowed to appoint its leaders. However, Giske takes for granted that the internal church democracy will be improved by that time.
- The Labour Party considers it a vital pillar that the democracy reform is in place. Thus, we declare that on completion of this process, there is no need for the state to appoint bishops, said Giske.
Consequently, he implies that the Labour Party might oppose the church's own appointment of bishops in the event of non-compliance with satisfactory democracy reforms in 2012. At the press conference Giske stated that obligations must be fulfilled in line with the definitions in the settlement, but he did not accept that the provisions are so "hazily" defined that it will be up to each and every party in 2012 to define its acceptance.
Furthermore, Giske emphasised that the new establishment does not entail any "division between state and church". The church will remain a major public responsibility.
Dagrun Eriksen, representing the Norwegian Christian Democracy Party, stated in her introduction that the democracy reform demands are contingent on specific structures to promote democracy being in place, and not connected to the result. She was pleased to hear that Giske agreed to this.
The Centre Party might be in opposition
The Centre Party's Inger Enger was of the opinion that "the Centre Party had managed to leave its footprints" on this settlement. She accepted that the ties between church and state would be loosened, but stated that the ties between church and people would be strengthened.
She indicated that the Centre Party might oppose division in 2012 in the event that the democracy reforms might not be in place.
- If the democracy evaluations do not show the intended results, the Centre Party will not support a resolution to transfer authority to the church and allow it to appoint its own leaders, Enger emphasised.
No automatic release
During the subsequent round of questions, Giske underlined once more that there will be no automatic release enabling the church itself to appoint its own leaders. This is entirely dependent on the democracy reforms.
- However, at the same time, it is not optional for the parties themselves to define what they consider to be "sufficient democracy" when we reach 2012. This is clearly defined in the settlement, Giske stated.
He affirmed that Labor and Centre have a thought-provoking minority, and in case the democracy reforms are not satisfactory, Labor and Centre might stop the transfer of authority to the church in 2012.
The Opposition got their will
There was some advance excitement as to the role of the Centre Party in the settlement. The Centre Party's crystal clear Central Country Meeting resolution was that they cannot accept that the state will let go of the bishop appointments. However, it now seems that the party has agreed to this, contingent on a church democracy reform prior to 2012.
Labour has been the other strong defender of the continued participation of the state with regard to the appointment of bishops. However, Labour has not committed the party as strongly as the Centre Party.
The problems became evident during the resolution process in the National Assembly. This matter requires 2/3rd majority because of the necessary amendments to the Constitution, and thus the government parties Labour and Centre was dependent on persuading the opposition.
(explanation for English readers: in a normal case of a 50/50 vote this would not be a problem. Norway's present government is elected from a majority of the mandates in the National Assembly, but not a 2/3rd majority).
However, among the opposition the situation is completely different. The opposition demanded that the church was to be released and be allowed to appoint its leaders on its own. Consequently, the government parties were compelled to give way during the negotiations.
TODAY's STATE CHURCH ESTABLISHMENT IN NORWAY
As of today, the Norwegian Church is the state church of Norway. In Article 2 of the Constitution the evangelical-lutheran religion is defined as the public religion of the state. Consequently, the bishops and priests of the Norwegian Church are government officials and civil servants.
In Norway it is also required that one half of the government members are members of the state church, inasmuch as the government constitutes its the principal board (church cabinet meeting). The Norwegian king is the head of the Norwegian Church. He is obliged to embrace the evangelical-lutheran religion and to uphold and protect this religion (Article 4). As monarch, the King is without personal religious freedom.
These Articles of the Constitution regulate the state/church establishment in Norway.
All citizens of the realm have religious freedom. The evangelical-lutheran religion remains the official religion of the state. Citizens embracing this religion are committed to raise their children likewise.
The King is obliged to embrace the evangelical-lutheran religion, uphold and protect the same.
Article 12, 2nd section
Of the government members, more than one half of the number of members shall embrace the official state religion.
The King ordains all official church services and ceremonies, all meetings and congregations pertaining to religious issues, and controls that the official teachers of the religion comply with the prescribed norms.
Article 21, first full stop
The King elects and appoints, upon consulting with his cabinet, all civil, clerical and military government officials.
Article 22, first and second full stop
The prime minister and the other members of the cabinet, as well as the secretaries of state, might, without prior judgment, be removed by the King, upon his receiving a statement of the cabinet. This also applies to (...) civil and clerical public officers in important positions (..).
Article 27, 2nd section
Members of the cabinet, not embracing the official religion of the state, shall not attend discussions pertaining to state church issues.
Translation from Norwegian: Tone Haugen Jensen