Peter Costea – Attorney at Law, February 22, 2016
“Questions have abounded whether the Norwegian authorities have been adversely motivated by the Bodnariu Family’s Evangelical faith in abducting their five (5) children in midNovember 2015. They have, and the evidence of it is plenty. Documents and minutes of meetings have emerged since the abduction showing that as early as October 13, 2015, more than a month before the children were taken into custody, the officials at Naustdal municipality disapproved of the parenting style of the Bodnariu parents believing it, after questioning the children, to be based on the Bible. They plainly state that Barnevernet “is worried that this is a way of upbringing which is justified by the Bible.”
The authorities pivoted their contemplated removal of the children on the “attitude” the parents “have to their own faith and way of upbringing when it comes to religion.” The documents also mention that the children were “brought up to respect God and their parents’ values.” Barnevernet interpreted this as a possible conflict between the children’s assumed inability to live up to their parents’ value expectations and faith and that the parents’ religion could create an “inner conflict” in the children and a stressful family environment. Religion is bad for children, Barnevernet’s minutes seem to say, and too much religion is lawful justification for snatching children away from their parents.
There you have it, plain and simple. Not even Richard Dawkins could have said it better. Dawkins is famous for the assertion he made in his 2006 bestseller The God Delusion that teaching the Bible to children is child abuse. Undeniably, the Bodnariu family’s religion and commitment to Christian values drew the attention of Barnevernet officials and featured prominently in their discussions and strategy prior to the children’s removal. So, the statement that Barnevernet was motivated by a religious animus when abducting the Bodnariu children is accurate and supported by the evidence. The Bible is mentioned four (4) times in the minutes, God once, and religion once. Religion, in fact, appears as a separate subject of discussion in relation to what to do with the children.
Why would the family’s religion irritate Barnevernet? The answer is straightforward: Barnevernet embodies Norway’s secular parental ideology. When it conflicts with the parenting style of traditional parents or parents whose parenting style is influenced by religion, in this case Christianity, Barnevernet wins out. Always. Simply because, as an arm of the Norwegian state, it holds the sword and wields it over traditional families.
And, while this is unfortunate, it may not necessarily be that unexpected considering Norway’s advanced degree of secularization. In May 2012 the Norwegian Parliament voted unanimously to abolish the status of the Lutheran Church as the National Church of Norway. News reports at that time indicated that by 2012 72% of Norway’s population, or approximately 3,6 million Norwegians, were non-believers, and that only about 2% of the country’s population attended church regularly. [See, Jessica Bluemke Norway Abolishes National Church, May 22, 2012: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/05/22/norway-abolishes-national-church/?repeat=w3tc] Also, according to Gallup World Polls taken around 2005 only 23% of Norwegians viewed religion as an important component of their daily lives, and nearly 7% claimed to be atheist. Christianity is in decline, too. A global study on the future of Christianity, released in 2013, indicated that while in 1970 98.8% of Norwegians claimed a Christian religious identity, by 2020 only 87.29% will do so. Also, by 2020 3.4% of Norway’s population is expected to be Muslim.
One major implication of all this is that in secular Norway traditional and faith-based parenting approaches have become irrelevant, a thing of the past, and secular parenting ideologies replace them. This also explains why approximately 25% of all children taken into custody in Norway are children of immigrants who are known for their traditional values, and some are religious refugees. The rest of the children are removed due to the lifestyle choices of the biological parents, such as drug consumption or addiction, alcoholism, or mental problems. Immigrants and refugees are normally not known for engaging in risky life styles of this nature, but for their traditionalism, and, in family matters, for conservative approaches to family relations and child rearing.
Barnevernet is a reflection of the profoundly secular nature of Norwegian society. Sociologists, among them the world renown W. Bradley Wilcox, observed, as early as 2009, that as the welfare state, of which Norway is a foremost example, succeeds in eroding or even displacing traditional, family or faith-based morality, state-dictated morality rooted in post-modern values of the secular state replaces it. [http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/more_government/] The state has become the mother and father of succeeding generations and welfare benefits replace parental responsibilities toward their children. Norway is one of the countries where, after decades of welfare-based family policies, people no longer depend on families or on one another for their wellbeing but on the state. Dependence has shifted from the family to the state.
Another byproduct of the Scandinavian welfare policies has been that younger generations of fathers and mothers do not know how to raise children. They no longer see in their own parents models of parenting and, as a result, are disoriented when they become parents. It is reasonable to assume that Norway adopted the Child Welfare Act of 1992, among others, to address the parenting ineptness of younger generations. Barnevernet was tasked with implementing a secular parenting approach which explains, to a great extent, the inevitable frictions between immigrant families who bring to Norway responsible parenting styles, and Norway’s Barnevernet which enforces Norway’s statist parenting ideology.
Note that in the past, and even today in most of the world, mostly orphans were put up for adoption. Societies were careful all along to respect and preserve the biological bonds between children and their parents. Instead of severing the parent-child relationship, they worked to improve the parenting skills of parents, the marital relationship, and the overall familial bonds. Norway’s Child Welfare Act is a major departure from this philosophy. Essentially, it grants the state the power to declare who is fit or unfit to be a parent and to take away the children of parents whom it deems unfit and give them to couples whom the state deems fit. This allows Barnevernet to snatch children away from their parents at will. There also is a presumption that Barnevernet’s selection of parents is always appropriate. For the biological parents to regain their offspring, they must undergo extensive psychological evaluation. “Experts” declare them fit or unfit as parents. Apparently, biology is no longer sufficient to grant them this status.
There is something very odd, sinister, and unsettling about this whole scenario and Norway’s parenting doctrine. One may even call is ideological aggression. The whole meaning of parenting has been turned upside down. In Norway, parenting no longer means biological ties between children and their parents. Instead, it means declaring as legal parents couples whom the state entrusts with the task to care for children. In a nutshell this is what sociologists term social or psychological parenting which has displaced biological parenting.
It is not surprising that Barnevernet views with suspicion parents who do not conform to Norway’s official and exclusivist parenting ideology. Unfortunately, this has affected the Bodnariu Family as well. Nor has its religion, however, been a motivating factor only in the abduction of the children. Events which occurred in the lives of the children following their abduction, now dispersed in three (3) different foster homes across Norway, confirm that there may well be at work a deliberate process to deprive the Bodnariu children of their religious identity. One of the children recently complained to the biological parents that the foster parents have already told some of the children that there is no God, no need for prayer, and that man has evolved from primates. This cannot be said to be in the best interest of the children to preserve their religious identity.”
Peter Costea is a civil rights attorney practicing in Houston, Texas. He also holds a PhD in diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston, Massachusetts.