Letter to the prime minister

Dear Erna,
I wasn’t particularly worried when I heard that a Norwegian journalist was told she couldn’t wear a specific piece of jewelry at work (a cross attached to a necklace), on the grounds that it was a religious symbol. This is an old debate in Norway, but it has been an especially controversial one since Parliament amended the constitution a year ago. That supposedly abolished state religion in Norway. There will also be a new law, about the use of religious symbols in the public space. As far as I can tell it hasn’t been passed yet. If it had you’d be breaking this law yourself, Erna Solberg. I’ll get back to that later.

I don’t think most Norwegians realised the ramifications of the new law, but we are now seeing what it means. As far as I understand the amendment says that the state will no longer be a part of the Church of Norway, it does not say that Norway has abolished the state religion permanently, which opens up for another religion later. In my opinion you people messed this up because the government is still funding the church. Showing respect towards all religions is a good idea, and an amendment in the constitution might be necessary, but what we are seeing now is still the opposite.

In the city of Skien the largest Humanist Association got a lot of attention when they insisted that a cross in a chapel was removed or painted over, so that it wouldn’t be visible. The reason was that this cross can be offensive to those who are not Christians, and atheists have to be buried on the same graveyard. I understand that this has become common in cemeteries, even though the burial customs we have in Norway are themselves a strong religious symbol, and can’t be separated from Christianity in its current form.

I think the chapel in Skien is problematic enough, but where I live we have no chapel. We have the village church within the graveyard fences, however. It bothers me thinking that the church might have to tone down their symbolic expressions because some outsiders believe they have the right to overrule the majority. This applies to all religions. I don’t know a lot about Muslim and Jewish traditions, but it seems to me that it’s a part of their faith to be visible. It’s a statement to the world proclaiming what and who they are, for example by having a long beard. That makes people a religious symbol as well. Should this be banned? Perhaps a ban would have been appropriate if Norway was still a mono -cultural society, but there has actually been a certain development on that area in Norway too.

I don’t understand how we suddenly became an abomination. It seems to be so difficult for a few people to accept even the slightest expression of religion in the public sphere that they are fighting to get them removed. In what was a Christian country, Christians have suddenly become a small, insignificant minority. That’s how it feels at least. We mean nothing to Norway. We have become a burden and must be phased out.

christmas tree made of lights
This imposing Christmas tree was put up in the shopping street in Bodø. Lights are important symbols in most religions and the Christmas tree a powerful biblical symbl. I am being quarrelsome, but is it too offensive to atheists to see this every day for a month of the year? The Tower in the background looks like a Church, but is in fact the town hall. Is that an illegal religious symbol on a very public building?

I wonder what‘s going on. I thought we had freedom of religion in Norway, but this is not freedom. The cross is a very important symbol for Christians. In other religions, both buildings and clothing are symbols. If it is true that there will be no external signs of religion, I think we are well on our way in the opposite direction of freedom.

Now that we are in the advent weeks, it is impossible not to see these symbols in public. For the Salvation Army advent is important, but if we get a strict law on religious symbols, they can’t be present to the same degree. The Christmas tree was introduced in Norway in the 19th century as a biblical symbol. We decorate it gladly with angels, flags, light, star, and these are Christian symbols. It’s absurd, but Erna Solberg has actually helped to cut down a tree her hometown gives as a gift to Newcastle in England every year. By doing so our government force a lot of Christian symbols on people in public spaces. Some of the people passing this tree in Newcastle are bound to be other than Christian. Erna Solberg is in a way a terrorist exporting religious fanaticism.

cuttong down a tree
Prime Minister Erna Solberg and mayor of Bergen, Trude Drevland, are sawing the tree that was given as a gift to Newcastle. They basically exported one of the most powerful religious symbols of our culture to a larger public spher. By doing so she intereffed in church affairs.
Source: ABC Nyheter

I agree. It is completely absurd. This law, whether already a law or not, is equally absurd. This puritan attitude is a big mistake. Politics and culture could easily coexist. This is how they do it the United States, which is without a doubt one of the most secular countries in the world, but also one of the most religious. They manage to separate culture and politics.

I have my doubts as to whether it is possible to keep the public free of religious symbols, which I think the government will realise when costs rise. This is both a practical and not the least a moral problem. Why is it so important to try for the impossible? It is said that few people attend church, but we are still talking about a lot of individuals. There are also many children who are christened and confirmed there, and many join the scouts and other activities. There are many who do not call themselves Christians, but who nevertheless have some kind of faith in God.

Why shouldn’t these be allowed to wear Christian symbols in public? Why is it up to the others to decide what Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. can do? I ‘m not talking about bothering others with preaching on the corner. It’s just a matter of quietly acknowledging ones faith. Humanism also requires a strong faith, and few have taken up as much space in the public sphere as just the Humanist Association. Are they going to be allowed to continue because many seem to be of the opinion that this is not a religion ?

I deserve an honest answer, Erna. We all do, and we are a large part of the population. It’s not just the 4.5 percent that goes to worship in the various Christian denominations. If you don’t give a direct answer during Advent, I challenge you to answer the Norwegian people in your New Year speech. What does this mean for those considering voting for you in the next election?

I don’t know if this is a law yet, although it seems that way. When I searched for information online, I found nothing about such a law, but the government site had a report from the 2010 “Faith and Spirituality policy committee”.

This committee was given the mandate to conduct a review of the states policy of religion and belief. The Committee was also to propose things that could help create a more coherent policy in the field . In their report they said:

“The committees premise in this case is to protect the individual’s right to choose whether and when to use religious or denominational garments and symbols.
The Committee therefore recommends that the general rule dictates that only practical considerations, not an assessment of possible symbolic meaning, should be the basis of any restrictions on use of religious clothing and symbols. “

Less than 6% of the population are not a member of any religious community. I am part of this minority, but why should we dictate what the remaining 94 % can do? That’s religious apartheid.

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