A case has been in the news lately of a Christian family in Norway, the Bodnariu family, whose five children have been seized by the Barnavernet, the Norwegian equivalent of Child Protective Services in the United States. The Barnavernet has a long history of allegations of abuse of its power. (See here, here, and here, among many others.) This case is by no means unique in that respect.
What caught the attention of the Christian media in the case of the Bodnariu family was the claim that the principal of the children's school initiated the trouble by stating that the children were being "radicalized" in Christianity by their parents and being taught that God punishes sin. According to the family, these matters were listed on the document given to their lawyer telling them what accusations formed the basis for the seizing of the children. Now, even though termination of parental rights has not been finalized, the CPS is beginning the process to try to place the children for adoption--apparently this could be in separate homes, as the siblings have not been kept together in foster care. This story states that, in a different, earlier case which the CPS lost in court, the CPS nonetheless was allowed to continue placing those children for adoption on the grounds that the case had gone on so long that it would be too traumatic to return them to their parents!
Home schoolers will particularly note (comparing the Bodnariu situation with the situation of home schoolers in various cases in Europe) the bind this puts parents in: If you home school your children (which I am told is technically legal, though regulated, in Norway), this places you under increased government scrutiny as possible radical weirdos. It draws attention to you. The government may demand that you send your children to public school so that they can be watched by outside eyes. But if you do that, then of course they are watched by outside eyes, sometimes suspicious eyes radically unsympathetic to your religious beliefs, and those very beliefs may be treated as at least partial grounds for breaking up the family. So you're damned if you do (home school) and damned if you don't. The Bodnariu family went along with having their children "socialized" by Norwegian public schools, and this is what it got them.
As public scrutiny has focused on the Barnavernet in this case, the government has apparently leaked the information to the media that the parents are being accused of physical abuse. It must be remembered, however, that all spanking, all corporal punishment of any kind, however mild, is illegal under Norwegian law. Daniel Bodnariu, the seized children's uncle, gives this plausible interpretation of what is going on:
During an interview with The Christian Post, Daniel Bodnariu, Marius' brother, explained that his brother and sister-in-law have never mistreated or abused their children and only give them "light punishments" that cause little pain when their children behaved poorly.
Bodnariu explained that while the agency hasn't found medical or physical evidence showing the children have been abused, the agency is relying on testimony from the children. And he questions whether Barnevernet has used unethical means to coax statements from the children.
"They said it was the belief of the parents, the Christian belief, and they said this creates a handicap in children because they are telling children that God punishes sin, and this is wrong in their point of view," Bodnariu said. "In the [formal] accusations, they didn't mention the religious aspect, only make the case on abuse, even though there is no evidence."
Well, that makes sense, in a cynical kind of way. The picture that emerges is all too believable: The family's ardent Christianity draws the negative attention of the principal (though the family claims that the principal himself merely wanted them offered "counseling," rather than recommending that the children be seized). The CPS agrees with the principal that all this Christianity is deeply suspicious. They are also able to discover, by questioning the children, that the parents occasionally use some form of corporal punishment or other. This, being illegal, gives plausible deniability to the claim of religious discrimination. They seize all the children and start trying to have them adopted, because they can.
Now, I admit that I have no access to the actual documents that have been given to the Bodnariu family. In Norway, as in the U.S., all such documents are private, and the entire process of seizing and placing children can be carried out by the family courts under a cloak of secrecy. No criminal charges need to be brought in a public court of law, with a presumption of innocence for the accused. This is all justified on the grounds of the "privacy of the family" and particularly the privacy of the children, but one effect is a complete lack of transparency for draconian government actions.
So it is possible that the Bodnariu parents did not merely mildly spank their children but actually beat them. The uncle said this in an early story:
Daniel, who is a pastor, added that when investigators interrogated the girls about their home life, they girls admitted that they hide some things from their parents because they fear being pulled by the ear or spanked. Daniel added that the girls explicitly told investigators that although they might fear punishment, they do not fear their parents.
Pulling children by the ear is not a great idea as a form of corporal punishment, but it would of course have been possible if that were the only legitimate concern for the Barnavernet to say, "Don't do that" and not seize the children from their parents, which must be incredibly traumatic. But of course the Barnavernet legally cannot admit that any corporal punishment is permissible. And given their fairly obvious worldview, it seems highly likely that they flatten all distinctions and regard any parents who use any corporal punishment as inherently dangerous people who must not be allowed to have children. Yes, that's my interpretation, but it's based not only on the draconian nature of the Norwegian law but also on past concerns about the Barnavernet and experience with similar ideologues in the United States.
Tales of bureaucratic overreach and power hunger on the part of CPS are all too common either here or in Europe. Deep as my sympathy is (given my interpretation of events) with the Bodnariu parents, to me, the most striking and disturbing story in all of this has been the response of some Norwegian Christians. I first became aware of the story through the public Facebook page of Christian author Nancy Pearcey, who is clearly sympathetic to the Bodnarius. As a well-known Christian writer, Pearcey has readers and Facebook followers all over the world, including in Norway. Her Norwegian readers (at least the ones who are speaking up), have been uniformly on the side of the Barnavernet. You can scroll through the comments both at the first post and in the sub-thread here, where the subject came up again.
One Norwegian Christian, for example, uttered these blanketly reassuring words:
"Barnevernet" only takes custody when they observe physical and/or sexual abuse or other gross negligence. Also, "Barnevernet" is not at liberty to share any information with the public regarding these reasons. So they can easily be accused of anything. You guys can rest assured that Christian liberties is not being attacked in Norway.
This is an astonishing level of faith in CPS. We are just supposed to "rest assured" that there's no problem, nothing to see here, folks, move along.
I note as well (and this commentator was not the only one to do this) the argument that we should trust CPS because they are unable to release private information to the public. This is a rather astonishing argument: This government agency is required by law to operate without transparency, therefore it would be unfair to the agency to accept information received from the parents even when this information is supposedly about documents they have received from the government, which cannot be revealed in any other way. The solution offered is not that children should not be seized (except in an emergency and only for a short time even then) unless criminal charges are brought and an open trial scheduled on extremely serious criminal charges (where minor spanking does not count), so that the public can be assured of the justice and wisdom of Barnavernet. No, the solution is that the public is just supposed to trust CPS without further question.
In this thread, a Christian reader, apparently Norwegian, stated as fact that "the parents in this case beat the [!@#$] out of their kids, so the authorities actually had a good reason." On what did she base this? Apparently this story, from a Christian Norwegian newspaper. It fussily lectures Christians about not being "the boy who cried wolf" about Christian persecution. It tells Christians this on the grounds that a police lawyer has stated that the parents have been accused (though not formally charged, I note) of violating Norwegian criminal law against "physical violence." The paper accepts this leaked accusation as fact, and Pearcey's Norwegian reader in turn accepts it as fact.
This third Norwegian reader boasts that he is not remotely worried as a Christian about having his children seized. He, too, has implicit faith in the CPS, and he even acts as a mouthpiece for the ideology of the "rights of the child."
I'm a norwegian christian, raising two children. I'm in no way whatsoever afraid that the child protective service (Barnevernet) will take our children from us. Why is that? Because we don't miss treat our children.
It is true that the Norwegian child protection service have power to seize children from their parents without a court trial, BUT that does not mean they can do so permanently. To permanently lose parenthood in Norway is a long thorough process, and the sad truth is that the child protection service only have resources to handle the most severe cases.
Norwegian law differs from many others on a crucial point: It emphasizes the rights of the CHILD. Not as "some parent's property", but as a person. This means that parents are not free to treat their children however they want, and the state WILL use force to empower the child against it's parents if needed. The implications of this is that practices that are considered normal in some countries are considered abusive, neglective or even criminal in Norway. This includes malnurishing your children, abuse alcohol and drugs wile children is in your care [LM: Yeah, because those are totally considered normal parenting in other Western countries like the benighted U.S.], denying your children proper schooling, spanking your children, threatening your children with corpo[r]al punishment or other severely scaring parental behavior [LM: Note the implied moral equivalence between malnourishment and even threatening a child with any corporal punishment. So saying to Johnny, "You will get a spanking if you take cookies from the cookie jar" is now equivalent to starving Johnny until he develops rickets.]. And this law counts for ALL children in Norway, ALSO immigrants, tourists and other not-native-norwegians. The fact that a nation state actually enforces childrens rights comes as a shock to some...
I highlight all of this from Pearcey's Norwegian readers to warn that this kind of passive attitude is precisely what government agencies want to cultivate. Is there a lack of accountability? Then don't seek more accountability! Simply tell people that you, as a law-abiding, rational citizen, have no fear of the government and that they should trust the government, too! There is in these comments not the slightest understanding of the famous Ronald Reagan quote, with its dark humor, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help."
It is pretty evident that these Norwegian CPS apologists are quite sincere and that they regard those who accept (even more or less) the Bodnarius' version of the story as nigh unto black helicopter conspiracy theorists and perhaps advocates for child abuse. At the same time, they use the fact that they themselves are Christians, or that a newspaper they might cite is a Christian paper, as attestation of their trustworthiness on these matters.
The gap between American attitudes toward excessive government power and European attitudes could not be more stark, and it is worth knowing that this gap extends even to European Christians.
Speaking for myself, I'm with Ronald Reagan.