Activists worldwide are planning rallies this week in support of a Norwegian family whose plight has become a touchstone in the battle for religious freedom and parental rights.
The saga began November 16, when Marius and Ruth Bodnariu experienced every caring parent’s worst nightmare: having their children taken by state authorities.
All five Bodnariu children, 3 months to 9 years old, were removed by the Norwegian social services agency, Barnevernet. They were placed in three different foster homes two-to-four hours away from their own home.
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. (Not until a week ago did a judge order Ezekiel, now 7 months old, to be returned to his parents.)
Finally, in January the authorities permitted the parents to visit their other children. By this time, however, the Barnevernet had already filed court documents to terminate the parents’ rights.
When Marius, also a Romanian citizen, told his family and friends, they were shocked and outraged. 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 stands with those who denounce this disturbing attack on parental rights.
“It’s hard to understand this kind of ruthless act against a family,” said Michael Donnelly, HSLDA’s Director of Global Outreach. “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.”
Advocates for the family include American and Norwegian lawyers who are trying to bring more attention to the plight of the Bodinariu family. Peter Costea is a Houston-based attorney who has visited the family in Norway.
Costea told HSLDA that he read minutes from a Barnevernet meeting that claim they are “worried that this is a way of upbringing which is justified by the Bible.” He said the agency wrote that the parent’s “Bible-based parenting style caused stress for the children,” and that there were concerns that the girls might have “an inner conflict [about] not being good enough when it comes to their parent’s values.”
“There is no doubt in my mind,” Costea added, “that this action was motivated in large part by the family’s religious faith. The Bodnarius are God-fearing, church-going folk—but this is not as common in Norway today.”
Costea concluded: “Is it child abuse to teach children the Bible? 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.’”
According to Costea, doctors who examined the children observed no signs of physical abuse. Those who were in daily contact with the children also indicated in interviews they had no concern about their well-being, while the children indicated that they held no fear of their parents or home life.
Norwegian attorneys working with the family have had prior negative experiences with the Norwegian agency. “The family’s lawyers have experience with the agency and have told me that at times it can be inhuman, arbitrary, and abusive,” Costea told HSLDA.
Costea said that he has been informed how much the children miss their parents and siblings and want to go home. Although the children wrote letters to their parents, Costea said, authorities withheld the letters for months. The parents have been regularly interrogated by police and social services officials. The pressure of these interrogations, in addition to the strain of losing their children, has been enormous.
Daniel Stoia, a brother-in-law to Ruth and Marius, told HSLDA that supporters are organizing over 50 rallies worldwide on April 16. Events will take place in over a dozen locations in the United States. Five events are scheduled for Norway, including one in Stryn.
Donnelly plans to attend the Stryn rally with Marius and Ruth, and to address the crowd.
“I will stand with these parents and call on Norwegian authorities to right this injustice,” Donnelly said. “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.”
Jayme Metzgar, daughter of HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris, runs a Romanian ministry for orphans called Romania Reborn. She shared her concerns and said she was writing an article about this case that she expects The Federalist to publish this week.
“As someone who works with abandoned children,” Metzgar said, “I’ve seen cases which require government intervention. 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. Americans who care about parental rights and vulnerable children should tell Norway to reunite this family.”
Metzgar added, “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 is asking our members and friends to contact the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to express their concern about this situation. Norway has a great desire to maintain a good image, especially with the United States. Your efforts can help Norway realize that this kind of behavior can cause that image to be tarnished.
Thank you for standing with the Bodnariu family and defending the right of all families to direct the upbringing and education of their children.