Complaints Filed as Norway Discourages Bibles in Schools
The novel interpretation of the Education Act that equates gifting students religious writings, books, or objects with preaching was lobbied by the Norwegian Humanist Association, one of the world's largest secular humanist organisations.
A new Norwegian education directive that discourages giving out religious writings, including the Bible, as gifts to students, has sparked a backlash.
The Gideons International, an Evangelical Christian mission organisation, has filed a complaint with the Civil Ombudsman about the Directorate of Education's new interpretation of the Education Act regarding religious texts, the newspaper Vårt Land reported
"We believe this case is very unfair. The Directorate of Education's interpretation of the Education Act doesn't meet legal requirements. It says in the Bible that we will fight to the bitter end, and we will do that here", Steinar Hopland, secretary general of The Gideons International in Norway told Vårt Land.
Hopland emphasised that his organisation is otherwise well-received.
"It is completely incomprehensible to us that we are not allowed to distribute Bibles. We enter classrooms and the teacher welcomes us. We say three sentences about what Gideon is and state that we have with us bilingual New Testaments…those that want a copy can get it…The entire process takes five minutes", Hopland said.
The Gideons, as the Tennessee-based organisation founded in 1899 is known colloquially, distribute between 15,000 and 20,000 copies of the New Testament in Norwegian secondary schools every year as gifts. However, the new interpretation of the Education Act that came into force in 2021 clearly recommends that municipalities refrain from allowing religious organisations or denominations to distribute religious texts as gifts to students in schools.
The new interpretation of the Education Act dates back to a letter sent to the Directorate of Education by the Norwegian Humanist Association, one of the world's largest secular humanist organisations at about 100,000 members in a nation of 5.3 million. It question the practice of handing out Bibles at schools and letting in missionaries, and specifically singled out The Gideons International.
In reponse, the directorate ruled that gifting students religious writings, books, or objects can be seen as preaching.
This decision was then criticised by former Children and Families Minister Kjell Ingolf Ropstad of the Christian Democrats Party, who called it "startling" and emphasised that students are by no means forced to read the Bibles they are given and may throw them away if they please.
On 1 January 2017, the Norwegian State Church was legally separated from the state amid ever-shrinking membership.