State authorities in Norway have taken five children into custody because of their parents’ Christian beliefs, spurring thousands of activists worldwide to protest the seizure in the name of parental rights and religious freedom.
Each of Marius and Ruth Bodnarius' five children, ages 3 months to 9 years, were seized in November by the Norwegian social services agency, Barnevernet. They were then placed in three different foster care homes located between two and four hours from their home.
According to legal experts, the children were taken because the state does not agree with their Christian upbringing at home — which allegedly causes them undue stress.
Solitary confinement — from parents
For months after their children’s abduction by the state, the Badnarius were prohibited from seeing or even communicating with any of their children. However, things changed a little at the beginning of the year.
“For two months Marius, an information technician, and Ruth, a pediatric nurse, were not permitted to have any contact with their children — including their youngest, Ezekiel, whom Ruth was still nursing when he was taken away,” the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) reports. “Not until a week ago did a judge order Ezekiel, now 7 months old, to be returned to his parents.”
But the state is by no means intending on giving up its control over the children.
“Finally, in January the authorities permitted the parents to visit their other children,” the nonprofit legal group informed. “By this time, however, the Barnevernet had already filed court documents to terminate the parents’ rights.”
Calling all nations
Realizing that the battle with the state was more than he and his wife could handle, Marius decided to seek outside help and support.
“When Marius, also a Romanian citizen, told his family and friends, they were shocked and outraged,” HSLDA attorneys explained. “The extended Bodnariu family and their friends mobilized Romanian communities worldwide and have organized thousands of activists to stage dozens of demonstrations outside Norwegian embassies and consulates calling for the reunification of this family.”
HSLDA Director of Global Outreach Michael Donnelly maintains that the Norwegian authorities power grab is a blatant violation of parental rights … in any part of the world.
“It’s hard to understand this kind of ruthless act against a family,” Donnelly expressed. “All who know the parents report that they are caring and responsible. Even if there were legitimate concerns about the parenting of Ruth and Marius — which doesn’t appear to be the case — this kind of treatment would still be completely disproportionate. The actions of this agency violate basic human rights norms that Norway has committed to uphold.”
Justification for a seizure?
Lawyers from Norway and the United States, including Houston-based attorney Peter Costea, are standing behind the Bodnarius family. After visiting the family in Norway, he recounted to HSLDA that the state agency Barnevernet used the following arguments to defend their seizure of the children.
“[We are] worried that this is a way of upbringing which is justified by the Bible,” Costea read from the minutes recorded during a Barnevernet meeting. “[Marius and Ruth’s] Bible-based parenting style caused stress for the children, [and we are concerned that the girls might have] an inner conflict [about] not being good enough when it comes to their parents’ values.”
Costea says this mindset proves that the state is persecuting the Bodnairus family because their Christian beliefs are not aligned with the Norwegian government’s secular political agenda.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this action was motivated in large part by the family’s religious faith,” Costea asserted. “The Bodnarius are God-fearing, church-going folk — but this is not as common in Norway today.”
The criminalization of Christianity?
The American attorney calls the continued attack on the Norwegian family nothing short of criminalizing Christianity — ultimately rescinding their religious liberty.
“Is it child abuse to teach children the Bible?” Costa mused. “The Norwegian government seems to think that if children believe and act according to their faith taught to them by their parents, then they are too ‘rigid’ or ‘strong-willed.’”
Where’s the crime?
It was also pointed out by the legal expert from Texas that the children showed no signs of physical abuse when examined by doctors, which corroborated accounts given by people who had daily contact with the five children. Those interviewed indicated that they had absolutely no concerns whatsoever about the Bodnarius children’s well-being. This also aligned with testimony given by the children, who insisted that they were not fearful of their parents and that they felt no danger from their life at home.
In fact, the only negative experiences reported in the whole situation were reported to be at the hands of the Barnevernet agency, which gave Norwegian attorneys working with the family a particularly hard time.
“The family’s lawyers have experience with the agency and have told me that at times it can be inhuman, arbitrary and abusive,” Costea recounted to HSLDA.
Enough is enough
The Texas attorney also mentioned news that the children are extremely homesick and greatly miss their parents and siblings. He added that for months, Norwegian authorities withheld letters written by the children to their parents.
In addition to the state taking their children away, the police and social services officials have regularly interrogated both parents, who have suffered great emotional trauma over the entire ordeal.
Joining the fight
More than 50 rallies worldwide took place on Saturday in support of the Bodnarius family, according to Daniel Stoia, who is the brother-in-law of Marius and Ruth. In addition to the five events taking place in Norway — including Stryn — over the weekend, rallies were scheduled at more than a dozen locations across America on Saturday.
Donnelly, who addressed the crowd of supporters in Stryn, Norway, on Saturday, made his backing of the Bodnarius family loud and clear.
“I will stand with these parents and call on Norwegian authorities to right this injustice,” Donnelly, who also serves as a staff attorney for HSLDA, proclaimed. “HSLDA is asking our members and friends to take action to support this family by calling on the Norwegian government to reunify this family. By standing up for the rights of Ruth and Marius and their children, we are standing for the rights of all families to be free to teach their children in accordance with their own convictions — without fear of government interference.”
Support for the Bodnarius family was also expressed by Jayme Metzgar — the daughter of HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris. She heads a ministry for orphans in Romania called Romania Reborn and is calling out for justice in the Scandinavian nation to the north.
“As someone who works with abandoned children, I’ve seen cases which require government intervention,” Metzgar qualified. “But the Bodnariu case is nothing like that. These are loving, resourceful, involved parents who were raising their children according to their own reasonable religious and cultural values. I fear Norway’s actions could harm our efforts to promote adoption in Romania for children who truly need it.
She contends that those in the United States who value parental and religious rights should stand with the Bodnarius family.
“Americans who care about parental rights and vulnerable children should tell Norway to reunite this family,” the pro-family advocate urged. “Norway is a country that is friendly with the United States, so we can have some influence to help this family and perhaps others like them — both in Norway and in other countries.”
HSLDA encourages Americans to contact the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. [via email] to express their concern about this situation and sign a petition to fight the persecution of the Christian family, which already has 60,000 signatures.
“Norway has a great desire to maintain a good image, especially with the United States,” HSLDA attorneys point out. “Your efforts can help Norway realize that this kind of behavior can cause that image to be tarnished.”