Over 100 attorneys worldwide have signed a letter petitioning the prime minister of Norway to intervene in the case of five children who were seized by the country’s child welfare services last November a school principal expressed concern over the children’s “religious upbringing.”
“We have familiarized ourselves with the facts of the matter and are deeply disturbed that the children’s seizure was motivated by the family’s Christian faith,” the letter to Erna Solberg reads.
“Barnevernet’s own documents attest to the fact that the family’s faith and religious values were at the core of the officials’ discussions when debating the children’s seizure,” it says. “Barnevernet disapproved of the parenting style of the parents because, it concluded, it was ‘based on the Bible.'”
As previously reported, in November, the Barnevernet seized Marius and Ruth Bodnariu’s two daughters, two sons and baby Ezekiel. The two eldest children were reportedly removed from school without their parents knowledge, and then Barnevarnet representatives arrived with police at the Bodnariu home, where welfare services seized the remaining children, minus the baby.
The organization returned the following day and removed the infant as well after the family tried to resolve the matter after being arrested.
Marius Bodnariu’s brother, Daniel, who is a pastor, explained in an online statement that the matter began when the children’s principal contacted welfare services after expressing concerns over how they were being raised, including in regard to the family’s Christian beliefs.
“The process of confiscating the Bodnariu children started when the Vevring School principal, the middle school attended by Eliana and Naomi, called the Barnevernet and expressed her concerns regarding the girls’ religious upbringing, her understanding that the girls are being disciplined at home, and that she considers the parents and grandmother to be radical Christians; an overriding concern that the principal’s perception of the parents’ and grandmother’s religious beliefs inhibit and handicap the girls’ development,” he outlined.
Peter Costea, the president of the Alliance for Romania’s Families, an attorney who has had access to court records surrounding the case, has also concluded that the family’s faith was a factor in the children’s seizure.
“Documents and minutes of meetings have emerged since the abduction showing that as early as … 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,” he explained in February. “They plainly state that Barnevernet ‘is worried that this is a way of upbringing which is justified by the Bible.’”
Costea outlined that “[t]he 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,” he continued. “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.”
During the course of the case, the discussion turned to abuse allegations as Barnevernet expressed concern that the children might have been spanked, which is illegal in Norway. The grandparents of the children, who have lived with the family at times, have rejected the allegations completely.
“We can assure that we have never seen that violence has been used against the children,” the grandfather said in a recent blog post. “Not even that they have raised their voices to them. The children themselves have never told us that the parents have been nasty to them.”
The Bodnariu’s were reunited with their infant son last month as a judge sided with the family, but the other four children remain in government custody.
“The Bodnariu children have been placed with foster homes. They no longer go to church, are raised by individuals who do not share the Christian faith or the belief in God of the children or of their biological parents, and have no interest in or appreciation for Christian values,” the letter sent on Friday to Norway’s prime minister outlines. “On the contrary, some of the foster parents have been dismissive and derisive of the children’s religious feelings when the children attempted to pray or display religious inclinations.”
It asserts that Barnevernet is violating Norway’s Child Welfare Act, which requires authorities to “preserve the religious identity” of the children, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that States “shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
“We find the facts of this international incident unacceptable not only on legal grounds but also on humanitarian and moral grounds. We view these transgressions as grievous breaches of domestic and international law,” the letter reads. “[W]e respectfully ask you Madam Prime Minister to use your position and the avenues available to your Office to ensure that the youngest Bodnariu child permanently remains with his biological parents and the remaining four Bodnariu children are immediately and permanently returned…”
Signees include Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Virginia; Robert Clarke, director of European advocacy for ADF International in London; attorney Martyn Iles of Canberra, Australia; Andrea Popescu of Strasbourg, France (a former staff attorney for the European Court of Human Rights); Tomas Zdechovsky, a member of the European Parliament in the Czech Republic and Hee Eun Lee of Handong International Law School in South Korea.