Democracy and Welfare Society

Rights and freedoms in a democracy

Norway is a democracy. The word democracy comes from Greek and means “rule by the people”. It is the people who govern politics in Norway by electing political parties to Parliament, county councils and municipal councils. In other words, the majority decides. But an important principle is that the majority must also take into consideration the opinions of the minority when developing policies.

In a democracy, citizens have certain rights and freedoms:

Human rights

FN-flagget FN-bygningen i New York
Human rights apply to all and we have these rights because we are human beings, not because we live in certain cities in the world or belong to a certain religion or special ethnic group. That is why we say that human rights are universal. Human rights primarily refer to the relationship between the individual and the government.

In 1948, the UN created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which applies to all people. The human rights declaration establishes the following, among other rights:

  • All people are born free, with the same value and human rights.
  • All people have the same human rights, regardless of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, political views, nationality, etc.
  • All people have the right to freedom and personal safety.
  • Torture of any kind is prohibited.
  • All people should enjoy legal protection.
  • All people have the right to influence the political situation in the country through free and fair secret-ballot elections

In Norway, many sections of the UN’s human rights declaration have been incorporated into laws.


Personer i rullestol Homofilt par To eldre damer på tur Fem barn sammen
Traditionally, the concept of equality related to women and men having equal rights and equal opportunities. Today, the notion has a broader significance: All people, regardless of age, ethnicity, ability, gender, religion and sexual orientation, should have equal rights and opportunities.

Equality means, among other things, having the same opportunity to influence and contribute, that responsibility and burden are fairly balanced, and that people should not have to fear abuse or assault.

Freedom of speech

Freedom of speech means that anyone can voice their opinion on politics, religion and other matters freely, can debate topics with others freely, and can write about their opinions freely without the fear of persecution.

All the same, there is a line between the freedom to say and write whatever one desires and speaking badly about other people. That is why we have a number of laws that set limits on the freedom of speech. For example, it is against the law to make racial and other discriminatory comments in a public debate, either verbally or in writing.

The freedom of speech applies to private individuals as well as the radio, TV and newspapers.

Legal protection

The inhabitants of Norway enjoy much legal protection. This means, among other things, that:

  • No one can be sentenced to imprisonment without a trial taking place. A trial means that an jury decides whether or not the accused is guilty and an independent judge determines the type of punishment that is fitting if the accused is found guilty. All the same, people can be held in custody before the trial while the police work towards solving the crime.
  • All persons accused of a crime have the right to counsel.
  • The courts are independent. This means that they must not allow themselves to be influenced by politicians, the media or other groups when working on concrete cases. Neither Parliament, the government nor other authorities can intervene in a court decision.
  • New laws cannot be given retroactive effect. This means that the law that is valid at the time of the crime must be used when determining guilt and punishment.

Freedom of religion

Freedom of religion means that people are free to choose which religion or life stance they wish to belong to, and to practise their religion or life stance. No one has the right to force others to join or leave a religious group or community. From the age of 15, everyone has the right to leave a religious or life stance community on their own initiative, irrespective of what others think. No one will be persecuted or punished for their religious affiliation.

Equally important is that everyone is free to choose their own religion/spiritual organisation and that we have the same freedom to not belong to a religious or spiritual community.

Freedom to organise

The freedom to organise means a number of things. The most important ones are:

  • The right to be a member of a political party or special interest organisation without the fear of persecution or incarceration.
  • The right to be a member of a labour organisation without the fear of persecution or incarceration. In certain situations, there is also the right to strike.
  • The right to express one’s opinions through legal demonstrations.


Right to vote

  • The voting age in Norway is 18.
  • To vote in a general election, you must be a Norwegian citizen.
  • To vote in a county council or city council election, you must have lived in Norway for three years before the election.
  • In Norway, we have had universal suffrage since women gained the right to vote in 1913.

Racism clause (§185 of the Penal Code)

“Discriminatory or hateful statement means threatening or insulting a person or promoting hate of, persecution of or contempt for another person based on his or her

  • a) skin colour or national or ethnic origin,
  • b) religion or life stance,
  • c) homosexual orientation, or
  • d) reduced functional capacity.”

The racism clause is controversial. There are people who would like to eliminate it because they believe it conflicts with the freedom of speech. Very few people have been sentenced for this crime.

22 July 2011

The 22nd of July 2011 is a pivotal day in modern Norwegian history. It was on this day that Norway experienced an act of terrorism. Eight people were killed when a bomb exploded in the government district of Oslo and 69 people were shot and killed on the island of Utøya during a political summer camp for young people. Many people were also injured during the attack. A single perpetrator was behind both attacks.