Theater of Cruelty

KRL win to little avail

COMMENTARY: Following the Strasbourg verdict, it should be clear that Norwegian schoolchildren need a new field of view of life, in line with human rights.


[new verdict] Then it happened again. Norway is convicted in an international court for the subject Christian knowledge with a view of religion and lifeorientering (KRL).

29. In June, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that the KRL subject violates Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Nothing less.

But that should come as no surprise. Norwegian religious education has long been in conflict with international guidelines. In 2004, the UN Human Rights Committee criticized the lack of an exemption scheme. And that from a subject which in theory and practice, towards children up to the age of six, favors one faith – the State's official doctrine: Evangelical-Lutheran Christianity.

It is a historical judgment Strasbourg has now come up with. It is Norway's attempt to adapt to a modern world that was put to the test. The result was hit.

The loss of prestige could hardly have been worse. Training in the Christian faith has been part of the Norwegian school curriculum since 1739. In 1969, it was decided that Christianity should be separated from the Church's proclamation. But in other fields the story went backwards: From 1889, exemption from Christianity was allowed, which lasted until 1997. The new KRL subject would then become so inclusive and objective that no one should need or be exempted from it.

One in fine thought, as Strasbourg points out in his judgment (see But in practice impossible to implement. Curricula and books continue to promote the Evangelical Lutheran faith. And children are not secured information in an "objective, critical and pluralistic way", Strasbourg concludes.

In practice, it is worse than on paper: In today's Norwegian school, sneaking teachers, with the purpose paragraph in hand, still introduce one creed in small children's minds. What preconditions do the little ones have for deciding the most difficult questions of them all: faith, non-belief, life, death?

What is surprising is not that the world condemns such a compulsory subject. Nor, for example, do Indonesia's schools, as US Presidential candidate Barack Obama experienced in the 1970 century, do not force the majority's religion on minority children.

It is surprising that so few in Norway see the mental abuse of all children – regardless of their parents' beliefs – to let the state teach them an "objective" subject with the underlying purpose of propagating one view of life as more correct than others.

The last week's passive political reactions have shown that global criticism does not help. Only if section 2 of the Constitution, the Christian purpose section and the services are removed – after an internal Norwegian debate – is there hope for real improvement. In several years.

It is useless to patch a boat that has got a shot for the bow. Norwegian children need a whole new field of view of life, in line with human rights. For the time being, the KRL subject is Norway's tenth country plague. ■

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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