The Story: Tens of thousands of people from Norway, Romania, the United States, and other countries are protesting the Norwegian child welfare agency’s seizure of five children from the Bodnariu family, purportedly because of the parents’ religious beliefs.

The Background: Marius and Ruth Bodnariu met while serving at Open Doors Foundation, a Romanian Christian charity that serves disadvantaged children and families. Marius, who is Romanian, and his wife, Ruth, who is Norwegian, married and became members of the Philadelphia Pentecostal Church in Bucharest before moving to Norway to raise their children.

They found, though, that their beliefs about how to raise their children are in conflict with the cultural norms and laws of Norway.

According to a Facebook post written by Marius’s brother, Daniel Bodnariu, the principal of the Bodnariu children’s school called Barnervernet (the Norwegian child welfare agency), expressing “concerns” because the two eldest Bodnariu girls said they were being disciplined at home. In her message to the agency, the post claims, the principal said “the parents are faithful Christians, ‘very Christian’ and the grandmother has a strong faith that God punishes sin, which, in her opinion, creates a disability in children.” The complaint by the principal reportedly also says that “although the girls are distinguished by good results at school and that she does not believe them to be physically abused at home, she believes that the parents need ‘help’ and guidance from the Barnevernet into raising their children.”

The two Bodnariu girls reportedly said that they hide some things they do from their parents for “fear of being punished by their parents by pulling of their ear, a slap across their behind or upside the head, but that they are not afraid of their parents or of going home.”

Because under Norwegian law authorities are not allowed to speak publicly about ongoing child welfare cases, the full details of the incident have not been released.

The daily Christian newspaper Vårt Land, however, claims that they have looked into the case and concludes, “Nothing that we have learned, has pointed towards this being anything other than a normal child welfare case.” Writing for Vårt Land, Trygve W. Jordheim says, “Public religious persecution and undue interference in family life should be taken seriously, both by the press and the public. Similarly important is that the terms are not used so lightly that people stop taking them seriously.”

Since November the parents have only been allowed see their baby son twice a week for two hours, as well as the two older boys, Matthew, 5, and John, 2. The agency has refused them any access to their daughters, Eliana, 9, and Naomi, 7.

Why It Matters: Is this a case of religious bias against parents or a misunderstanding based on cultural norms? Maybe both.

Some Christian parents believe that parents have a right or a duty to use corporal punishment (such as spanking) when disciplining their children. But in Norway, the Children Act was amended in 2010 to prohibit any type of corporal punishment:

The child must not be subjected to violence or in any other way be treated so as to harm or endanger his or her mental or physical health. This shall also apply when violence is carried out in connection with upbringing of the child. Use of violence and frightening or annoying behavior or other inconsiderate conduct towards the child is prohibited.

The Bodnariu parents have admitted they have subjected their children to “ear pulling” and light spanking, both of which are considered “violence” under Norwegian law. “In Romania it is not considered violence,” Ruth Bodnariu said. “In Norway unfortunately that's [a] criminal case.”

Christian parents may disagree about the merits of spanking and other forms of physical discipline, but we generally believe we have duty to raise our children according to the teachings of the Bible. Unfortunately, in many Western nations our duties and rights as parents are circumscribed by the cultural norms of the secular public. This is true even in the United States, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has repeatedly warned us.

For example, last November Justice Scalia told an audience at Georgetown University Law Center that there is no U.S. constitutional right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children. Although Scalia believes the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children is among the “unalienable rights” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, it is not a right necessarily protected by the Constitution since many “important rights are not contained there.” 

“For example, my right to raise my children the way I want,” Scalia said. “To teach them what I want them taught, not what Big Brother says. That is not there.”