Norway Urged to End Its State Church System

OSLO, Norway, MARCH 8, 2002 ( A religious panel has urged that Norway end its 465-year-old state church system and give all faiths equal footing, the Associated Press reported.

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway has been the nation´s official religion since 1537. Last year 86% of the country´s 4.5 million people were listed as members, although few of those were active, AP said.

After four years of study, a panel from the government-backed Norwegian Church Council said the time had come to separate the church and state.

It would take a constitutional amendment to end the state church system. Such amendments must be approved by two consecutive parliaments, so the earliest possible date for the change would be after the 2005 national elections. It was not clear if an amendment would be presented.

The panel said the financing and decision-making of all religious groups should be done by congregation members. It said that would give churches greater freedom.

State church leaders and the government have frequently been at odds, especially over hirings. In 2000, the government defied the church´s guidelines and allowed the appointment of an openly homosexual clergyman in Oslo.

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