Church, state to separate Norway

Church of Norway will no longer be the official religion of the country come November

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Throughout its modern history, Norway has had a national church, also called a state church, the officially sanctioned religion of a nation state. The relationship between Church and State changed on May 21, 2012, when the Storting (Parliament) amended the Constitution and granted Den norske kirke (The Church of Norway) greater autonomy. That formally made Norway a secular country with no official religion. The Church of Norway became a Folkekirke (people’s church) supported by the state.

The change will be little noticed by the 3.2 million members of the church. But church management and affairs are now being reorganized according to a plan that started in 2013 and calls for formal implementation this coming November 27, the first Sunday of Advent and the first day of the 2017 Liturgical Year.

Together the amendments to three Articles of the Constitution (see below) signal both continuity and change. The Church of Norway remains a state responsibility, but it no longer is a state church. Freedom of religion remains ensured for all. The king still must be a member of the Church of Norway, but he is no longer its formal head and no longer acts via the Council of Ministers to appoint Bishops and Provosts, who now are appointed by the Church. The Church remains subject to a specific law (Further reading) that was amended and updated in 2015.

Translations of original Constitutional articles and the recent amendments

Article 2 original: “All inhabitants of the Realm shall have the right to free exercise of their religion. The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same.”
Article 2 amended: “Our values will remain our Christian and humanist heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state based on the rule of law and human rights.”

Article 4 original: “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion, and uphold and protect the same.”
Article 4 amended: “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion.”

Article 16 original: “The King ordains all public church services and public worship, all meetings and assemblies dealing with religious matters, and ensures that public teachers of religion follow the norms prescribed for them.”
Article 16 amended: “All inhabitants of the realm shall have the right to free exercise of their religion. The Church of Norway, an Evangelical-Lutheran church, will remain the Established Church of Norway and will as such be supported by the State. Detailed provisions as to its system will be laid down by law. All religious and belief communities should be supported on equal terms.”

Source: Stortinget website pages in English at www.stortinget.no/en/In-English

Much has been accomplished in the transition from a State Church to an independent Church within a Nation State. Even so, reorganization continues, not least in redefining the roles of former civil servants in the new hierarchy of an independent church having 1,300 priests, 11 bishops, and 300 functionaries.

Further reading:
• “Church of Norway,” Information service on website in English at: kirken.no/nb-NO/church-of-norway.

Lov om Den norske kirke (Act on the Church of Norway), Law of 1996, amended October 1, 2015, Lovdata complete text at: lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/1996-06-07-31 (in Norwegian, not yet translated into English).

• “Er det statskirke i Norge?” (Does Norway have a state church?), Church of Norway Q&A statement on separation, March 6, 2015, online at: kirken.no/nb-NO/konfirmasjon/sporsmal-og-svar/om-kirken/er-det-statskirke-i-norge (in Norwegian only).

This article originally appeared in the March 25, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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