Norway separates church and state

The Norwegian parliament has voted to abolish the state church, a decision which is set to be confirmed in a constitutional amendment on Monday.

Norway separates church and state
Photo: NTB scanpix

The vote last Wednesday was backed by parties across the political spectrum and has the effect of severing the connection between Norway and the Church of Norway, making Norway a secular state.

Svein Arne Lindø, chair of the church council, welcomed the decision which is the result of an agreement signed between the government and the church in 2008.

"Once the decision to change the constitution is made on Monday, it will be a great day for us. It's a great day for both church and country," he told state news agency NRK.

In practice the change means that the state relinquishes any control over the Church of Norway including the appointments of pastors and bishops. The decision will furthermore establish equality between the Church of Norway and other faiths represented in the country. 

Church leaders will be in attendance at Norway's Stortinget parliament to witness the constitutional amendment on Monday afternoon. 

The Lutheran Church was formally recognised as the state church in the Norwegian constitution framed after independence from Denmark in 1814.

Some 79.2 percent of Norwegians were registered as members of the Church of Norway as of January 1st 2010, although membership has been in steady decline over the past decade.

According to recent figures only 2 percent of Norwegians attend church regularly, and according to 2005 Gallup poll, 46 percent considered themselves atheists.

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Sunday shopping ‘breaks Norway constitution’

Norway’s most senior bishop has declared that allowing shops to open on Sundays would violate the country’s constitution.

Sunday shopping 'breaks Norway constitution'
Bishop Helga Haugland Byfuglien. Photo: Church of Norway
Helga Haugland Byfuglien, praeses of the Norwegian Bishops’ Conference, said that Sunday opening would violate the “Christian and humanistic heritage” which is enshrined in the second article of the document drafted in 1814.
“Based on our Christian and humanistic heritage, Sunday is a holy day and one of the pillars of our rhythm of life. As I see it, it is not in line with paragraph 2 of the Constitution to change this,” she told NRK.
The government has two proposals for legalising Sunday trading. The first would allow any retailer who wants to stay open on Sundays. The second would leave the decision up to individual municipalities. 
Haugland Byfuglien argues that Norway’s Christian and humanistic heritage depends on Sunday being protected and safeguarded as a common day of rest.
She claims that the Sabbath day is in itself is an important expression of the Christian and humanist values on which Norway’s society is built. 
“A thousand years of history…cannot be changed just because the government believes in market forces,” she said in a hearing on the government’s plans. 
Bjørgulv Vinje Borgundvåg, an undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture, argued that the decision on whether to observe the Sabbath should be left up to individuals. 
“We agree that all people need a rest. Different religions have different rest days. We think it might be nice for the people themselves to be able to choose when they want this day of rest,” he said. 
Denmark removed restrictions on Sunday opening on 1 October 2012,  Sweden in about 2000, and the United Kingdom in 1994. 
In Norway only petrol stations, flower nurseries and grocery shops that are smaller than 100 square metres are allowed to operate on Sundays. 
The proposal to allow Sunday opening has generated unexpectedly strong opposition in Norway with unions, the church and several political parties opposed. 
Prime Minister Erna Solberg last week told NTB newswire that she believed the opposition would fade over time.
“This is a typical case of a proposal that many people will like and appreciate in the future, and which few parties want to go along with now,” she said.