Child welfare services in Norway have reportedly removed five Christian children from their parents' home and placed them into foster care after the parents were accused of radicalizing and indoctrinating their children with Christianity.
According to the British-based Christian Institute, Norway's child protection services, known as the Barnevernet, seized the three sons and two daughters of Ruth and Marius Bodnariu in mid-November.
Although the family wasn't quite sure at the time why their children were being taken away from them, their lawyer discovered that the parents were being charged with Christian indoctrination.
The family's ordeal began on Nov. 16 when the Barnevernet took the Bodnariu's two daughters out of school without their parents knowledge and moved them to an undisclosed location. Officials then went to the family's home, allegedly without documentation, and seized two of the sons and arrested Ruth, who took her baby son, Ezekiel, with her to the police station. Officials also went to Marius' work and arrested him.
After being interrogated for several hours, the parents and baby Ezekiel were freed and allowed to go home, but without the other children.
The next day, officials went back to the Bodnariu's home and took Ezekiel into custody on the grounds that Ruth was "dangerous."
According to the Institute, the parents were refused access to their older children over the following couple of weeks and told that their children had adapted well in their new foster home and "didn't miss their parents."
The Bodnariu's lawyer obtained a copy of the government document that lists the charges against Marius and Ruth, which includes being listed as "radical Christians who were indoctrinating their children."
The lawyer told the parents that the government agency had overstepped its legal boundaries by not providing documentation and by separating a mother from her breastfeeding baby.
A petition has been launched by supporters urging the Norwegian government to release the children back to their parents. The petition, which has over 27,000 signatures, states that when the parents were interrogated, they were told that they couldn't publicly reveal their situation "so they wouldn't aggravate their case."
"They are just a normal Christian family trying to raise their children in the knowledge of God!" the petition reads. "There is no documented or otherwise abuse of any kind in this family!"
A Facebook page was created to support the family and provides some insight into their case. Marius' brother, Daniel, posted on the page Wednesday that the social services investigation was prompted by a call from the principal of the daughters' school, who listed concerns about how the children were being raised, disciplined at home and the nature of the family's Christian faith.
Daniel explained that the principal cited how the parents, aunts, uncles and grandmother of the children believe that "God punishes sin."
"[The principal] 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 English translation of Daniel's post reads.
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.
"There are many cases of abuse in [families], and of course these cases should be punished, but it is an enormous responsibility to be able to discern when the abuse truly exists and when it doesn't, because by not discerning appropriately you can destroy a family," Daniel's post asserts. "From the legal documents received in Marius and Ruth's case, it is clear that there are no signs of physical abuse; but that the (older) children stated that they were being punished."
"Who is to blame?" Daniel asked. "The law, that offers full authority to some people to intervene in the family and act as they see fit, or some social workers, who in the name of the welfare of the child (and possibly other benefits) destroy the family, and the child implicitly?"
The parents appeared for a hearing last Friday in which their appeal against the Barnevernet's actions were rejected. However, the Facebook page reports the couple will be granted visitation rights to Ezekiel twice per week for two hours at a time, while Ruth will be allowed to see her other sons once a week. The parents were denied contact with their daughters.
The family is still deciding the next course of legal action to take, the Christian Institute reports.