Do not use the word «persecution» lightly

Norwegian authorities do not take children from their parents just because they are Christians.

Child welfare cases are never simple, for those involved or for the press covering them. Due to confidentiality issues the authorities will never disclose anything, so access to information is controlled by parents and their supporters. The result will always be a lack of balance.

The stories that thrive in support groups on Facebook, about mothers who – out of the blue – are deprived of their children by the evil Child protective services (in Norwegian: barnevernet), fall on their own absurdity. It takes very much to have your children taken away in Norway.

«'Radical' Christians who 'indoctrinated' their kids

And it does certainly not happen on the grounds of «religious indoctrination», as some people around the world now seem to believe. The US website Christian Post wrote about a Norwegian-Romanian couple, residing in Norway, being stripped of their five children because they were «radical» Christians who «indoctrinated» their kids. The decision is supposed to be based on a «teacher's concern».

The Norwegian website Document.no asks: «Is it the view of the Child protective services that Christian teaching is a form of radicalization and sufficient legal basis for depriving parents kids?» The author underlines that this actual matter does not seem «to be totally without nuance».

Romanian medias coverage of the case has triggered a huge protest outside the Norwegian Embassy in Bucharest last Saturday. Protests have also been planned in the US, according to Christian Post. The Facebook page «Norway, return the children to the [...] family» (run by a family member of one of the parents) has more than 14.000 likes. According to the Norwegian newspaper Dagen, an online campaign has received more than 40.000 signatures.

Reevaluate the true meaning of «persecution»

Because of the large number of e-mails we have received, the allegations of religious persecution and the international dimensions, we decided to take a closer look. We contacted people in the municipality and journalists in the local papers, and we tried to get in touch with the parents. Nothing that we have learned, has pointed towards this being anything other than a «normal» child welfare case.

To a certain level it is understandable that in some people's worldview, the Child protective services are a tool the authorities use to control the citizens' private sphere – if they're from a country where the regime is or has been more totalitarian than the Norwegian authorities. Here there has recently been a debate about Christian symbols on the walls in reception centers for refugees, and every year we have the same arguing about schools taking the pupils to church before Christmas, but that's about it. Maybe some people should reevaluate the true meaning of the word «persecution»?

Yes, it is true that the Norwegian minister of education ten years ago was quoted saying «the belief that the parents are best suited to raise their children, is mistaken», but he was quickly put in his place by the vast majority.

Charged for violence against their own children

Tuesday brought the first mention of the matter in the serious press. The local newspaper Firda reported that the couple now risk six years in prison for violating the criminal law section covering «domestic abuse» for «threats, coercion, deprivation of liberty, violence or other violations». Even clearer: The parents are being charged for violence against their own children.

– In the Child welfare act, there is no legal basis whatsoever for taking children from their parents based on religious or other beliefs, says Hanne Sæbø at County governor's office of Sogn og Fjordane, in Firda.

It must be emphasized that there still is no indictment against the parents of the five children, and that the matter certainly could end with the family being reunited without anyone being prosecuted. The best possible outcome would be for all the claims being disproved.

The boy who cried wolf

But when someone cries «religious persecution» in a case where not even those in the media who tend to be concerned with issues like these can find any trace of it, it's important to remember what happened to the boy who cried wolf: When the wolf actually appeared, no one came to rescue.

Public religious persecution and undue interference in family life should be taken seriously, both by the press and the public. Similarly important is that the terms are not used so lightly that people stop taking them seriously.

This article is written by Trygve W. Jordheim, head of news in the daily Christian newspaper Vårt Land. We're based in Oslo, Norway. If you want to contact us about this case or any other, please send us an e-mail.


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