WASHINGTON — Thousands of Romanian Pentecostal Evangelicals peacefully protested Norwegian embassies in five national capitals, including Washington D.C. on Friday, calling on the Norwegian government to free five children who were removed from their parents by child services last year after a teacher complained about the family's Christian faith.
The three sons and two daughters of Ruth and Marius Bodnariu were taken into custody by the Barnevernet (Norway's child services) on Nov. 16, 2015, after their daughter's teacher cited concern about the family's belief that "God punishes sin."
Despite not having been tried in a court of law, the children have been placed in three separate foster homes and the parents have been granted limited visitation rights. The family also claims that the agency has initiated the adoption process for the children on the grounds that they were physically abused.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the Norwegian Embassy in Washington. Supporters who know the family told reporters that the claims that the children were abused is unproven and added that the Bodnariu family is one of thousands of "normal" families suffering because of the unjust actions of Barnevernet.
"We have a God and God is on our side because God created the family. The tradition of the family has been ordained by God. If you are going to fight us and fight the Bodnariu family, you also fight against God," Washington protest organizer Cristian Ionescu, who pastors the Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Chicago and is also the vice president of the Romanian Pentecostal Union in the United States and Canada, said.
"Lately they are trying to characterize it as an abuse case. It never started as such. The teacher said that we need to bridge the gap between us and this family because they have radical Christian principles and we know that right now, everything that was considered decent two decades ago is considered 'radical,'" Ionescu added.
"You cannot indoctrinate your children in one religion and you cannot tell them about God and the attributes of God because that is offensive to so many people. Then it developed as an abuse case once Barnevernet understood that you cannot go against the family based on religious accusations of indoctrination."
Protests were also held at Norwegian embassies in the capitals of Ireland, Spain, Britain and Denmark.
Supporters at the Washington protest delivered a petition signed by over 7,000 American churchgoers to officials from the embassy urging the government to reunite the family. An online petition has also received over 50,000 signatures.
"When they came out to receive the signatures, they did what the Norwegian officials do — they say, 'We cannot look into individual cases,'" Norwegian human rights lawyer and activist Marius Reikeras told The Christian Post. "I believe that they will obviously notice what is going on here. I think that this case will settle out and Norway will have to give up to international pressure."
Reikeras, who says he has dealt with a number of cases like the Bodnarius, explained that Norwegian child services has a history of breaking up families and estimated that about 70,000 children are now in the Barnevernet system. He added that the Norwegian government has been proven guilty four times by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, of violating due process and the "presumption of innocence."
"I have seen so many families, so we can put a picture on this, you see the same pattern — perfectly normal families get in trouble with the CPS system somehow, like the Bodnarius," Reikeras argued. "For me, I have a professional role in this so I have to be objective. I can see that in any case, the fundamental human rights values are being broken."
"When you have a system that keeps on doing these things, not only for this family but thousands of families, you have to stop asking yourself why we are breaking international law," Reikeras continued. "We have to start respecting international law. We are part of the human rights convention. We have committed to follow the human rights convention as well as the U.N articles [of human rights]. As long as we are not doing that, we are seeing cases like this. This is a very good example — a well educated family was taken without due process, without any fair trial."
The Barnevernet told the family on Dec. 15, about a month after the children were removed, that the agency would like to evaluate the Bodnariu parents to see what kind of people they are. However, the parents were told that the agency won't be able to conduct an evaluation until February.
Even though the evaluation won't take place until February, at the earliest, the family claims that the agency has already begun the adoption procedures for their children.
According to Ionescu, three of the Bodnariu children have birthdays in January, two of which, he says, are this week. He implored the Norwegian government to give the children the best birthday gift they can receive.
"The best gift you can give to these children are not more toys and interviews to separate them morally and spiritually from their families. The best gift they can give to these children is to reunite them with the people that love them the most in the world — Marius and Ruth Bodnariu," Ionescu stressed. "I know them personally, they are wonderful, wonderful people."
Ionescu warned that as more international protests are scheduled for the near future and more international awareness is raised about the Barnevernet, the reputation of the Norwegian government will start to be "tarnished."
"They may have not thought that the Bodnariu family is a family with so much support with so many friends that love them all over the world, but they are and they touched the wrong people," Ionescu contended. "There will come a time when it will hurt [Norway] more to keep the children because the image of Norway will be tarnished and if they are patriots and they love their country, they can't let the abuses continue."