Shunning is a Crime

Human Rights Take Precedence Over Organisational Rights—Jehovah’s Witnesses Lose Registration Appeal in Norway


On June 30, 2023, Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs), one of six well-known religious groups that practice mandated shunning, lost their second appeal in their demand for a temporary injunction so they could continue to receive an annual financial grant of about 1.5 million dollars a year. They lost this right when their registration as a Norwegian religious community was revoked, effective January 1, 2021.

During the June 2023 appeal process for reinstatement, JWs argued that they were denied freedom of religion. However, the judges ruled that the human rights of its former members superseded the rights of an organization.

If JW policies violate the rights of its former members, particularly minors, which they do, JWs will not be allowed to register as a religious community in Norway and receive the subsequent annual financial grant rights.

This story had its genesis on January 27, 2022, when after months of investigating mandated shunning practices by JWs, the State Administrator for the Department of Religion found JWs guilty of human rights violations. Specifically, sections 2 and 6 of the Religious Communities Act in Norway.

Section 2 states: “People who have reached the age of 15 can register themselves in or out of religious and life-view communities.”

Section 6 states: “If a faith or belief community or individuals acting on behalf of the community, use violence or coercion, make threats, violate children’s rights, violate statutory prohibitions on discrimination or in other ways seriously violate the rights and freedoms of other, the community may be denied a grant.”

JWs appealed the January 27 decision several times to the State Administrator and Department of Religion in 2022. All those bureaucratic appeals were denied.

On September 30, 2022, The Ministry of Children & Families upheld the decision of the State Administrator. Any grants due to JWs would be permanently suspended because of religiously mandated shunning.

The Administrator further found three conditions especially objectionable about mandated shunning by JWs. They were:

  1. punishment for members attempting to leave the JW community; 
  2. exclusion of members; 
  3. negative social control of minors.

JWs were allowed to have their day in court on March 30, 2023. It was related to their demand for a temporary injunction so they could restore all financial grant rights until all court processes were exhausted and final, which could take several years.

During the court proceeding, JW attorneys asserted that the shunning of former members was a member’s personal choice. However, the court was presented with irrefutable evidence from JW literature and public lectures to show that JWs practice mandated shunning. Therefore, JWs lost their first appeal in a courtroom and they would not be able to get the money they were hoping for. 

Jan Frode Nilsen, a former JW, was in the courtroom that day as a government witness. When asked by the JW attorney why he was now an activist supporting the case against JWs in Norway, Mr Nilsen said, “I am here on behalf of all the former JWs who are alone and cut off from their families. Those who lie like dead meat on the side of the road because they can’t cope with life after everyone they know disappears. Those who can’t bear to speak for themselves”. 

He went on to say, “I speak for many. I am an activist for JWs as well, for those whose faith is long gone. But who must deny their inner beliefs, because if they speak up, they too will be the victims of mandated shunning. And, they will lose someone they love; maybe everyone they love.”

Jan shared his thoughts after the trial saying, “The UN Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 states: ‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home, or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.’ JWs have created a system, a cobweb, in which family is used as a weapon, and it (mandated shunning) is a clear violation of human rights.”

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