In a move that has taken many by surprise, the Norwegian Parliament is set to separate church and state when it carries a constitutional amendment to abolish the Church of Norway. The nation will become secular, with no official religion, and the government will not participate in the appointment of church deans and bishops. Svein Harberg, the spokesman for the Church, Education, and Research Committee stated that the decision is historic both for the Norwegian Church and for the politicians in Parliament.
A parliamentary committee report presented Tuesday contains a unanimous recommendation to have the state permanently separate from the church.
All 169 members of the seven parties in Parliament, including 10 representatives from the Christian Democratic Party and 30 from the Conservative Party, are said to be behind the move, according to a report from TV2.
The government will no longer have a minister of churches, and the state will no longer be responsible for the appointment of bishops and deans.
Instead, Norway will treat all religions and philosophies equally.
The state will no longer engage in religious activities, but support the Norwegian church, national church and other religious and belief communities in line with it, reports NRK.
The amendments are expected to be formally passed on Monday
The Church of Norway was formed after the Lutheran Reformation in 1536, and was officially called the Lutheran State Church. The state meddled very little in church matters, only quelling unrest when it had to, chose high church officials, and financially supported the church.
Opposition from secular groups arose in the 1970s when Norway's economy boomed and the church benefited.
Traditionally, every citizen of Norway became a member of the Church of Norway upon baptism. 79 percent of Norwegians are registered members, but only about 20 percent make religion a large part of their lives and only two percent attend church regularly, according to 2009 and 2010 data. A 2002 study done by Gustafsson and Pettersson revealed that 72 percent of Norwegians do not believe in a personal God.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: This gives us hope that one day our own Government and indeed, the Church of England will realise that Establishment of one particular church is unjust and anachronistic. Breaking the link between church and state in Britain, however, would be an enormous task that could well take generations to achieve even if there was will to do it, which there isn't.