Separation of Church and State in Norway

New Year’s Day saw the separation of Church and State in Norway. The change in the Church’s status was in response to amendments to the Constitution made in 2012:

  • Original Article 2: “All inhabitants of the Realm shall have the right to free exercise of their religion. The Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same.”
  • New Article 2: “Our values will remain our Christian and humanist heritage. This Constitution shall ensure democracy, a state based on the rule of law and human rights.”
  • Original Article 4: “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion, and uphold and protect the same.”
  • Amended Article 4: “The King shall at all times profess the Evangelical-Lutheran religion.”
  • Original Article 16: “The King ordains all public church services and public worship, all meetings and assemblies dealing with religious matters, and ensures that public teachers of religion follow the norms prescribed for them.”
  • New Article 16: “All inhabitants of the Realm shall have the right to free exercise of their religion. The Norwegian Church, an Evangelical-Lutheran church, will remain the Norwegian National Church and will as such be supported by the State. Detailed provisions as to its system will be laid down by law. All religious and philosophical communities should be supported on equal terms.”

Under the new arrangements, clergy will no longer be appointed by the Monarch.

The Storting released a statement at the time of the 2012 constitutional amendments as follows:

“The Evangelical Lutheran religion will no longer be the state’s official religion. It will continue to receive financing on a par with other religious and belief-based societies … [However], the Norwegian Church will continue to have a special basis in the Constitution and the state will be built upon ‘our Christian and humanistic heritage’.”

Exactly what that “special basis” is, however, is not entirely clear. The Local Norway reported Jens-Petter Johnsen, of the Church’s National Council, as saying that the Church is facing “the biggest organisational change … since the Reformation. The changes will create a clear separation between Church and State.” Kristin Mile, Secretary General of the Norwegian Humanist Association (Human-Etisk Forbund), argues on the other hand that the new law does not go far enough and that the relationship between Church and State will be unclear: “As long as the Constitution says that the Church of Norway is Norway’s national church and that it should be supported by the State, we still have a State Church.”

The constitutional amendments change the relationship between Church and State; but perhaps, as the humanists suggest, that new relationship does not yet amount to full separation.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Separation of Church and State in Norway" in Law & Religion UK, 2 January 2017,


3 thoughts on “Separation of Church and State in Norway

  1. Why is the Norwegian Monarch the only person discriminated against – maybe the protestant equivalent of the current Roman Catholic situation where all catholics are infallible apart from the Pope?

  2. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 8th January | Law & Religion UK

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