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Good People, Bad Judgments

Despite being remarkably progressive, the 1814 Norwegian constitution contained a clause barring Jews from entering the country, based on the judgment that Jewish beliefs and customs were incompatible with enlightened Western values. This is the same flawed logic being used today to persecute Muslims.

NEW YORK – Vidkun Quisling, Norway’s wartime fascist leader whose name has become synonymous with collaboration with evil, lived with his wife in a rather grandiose villa outside of Oslo. That villa is now the Norwegian Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities, a fine transformation of a tainted place.

Earlier this year, I visited the center for a fascinating exhibition on the first independent Norwegian constitution promulgated in 1814. It was a remarkably enlightened and progressive document, composed by learned scholars, steeped in history, law, and philosophy. Some were experts on the Greek classics, others on ancient Hebrew; all were keen readers of Kant and Voltaire.

There is, however, one extraordinary clause: Article II proclaims freedom of religion in the Lutheran state, with the caveat that “Jews shall still be banned from entering the Realm.” This was peculiar, even at the time. Napoleon, defeated in that same year, had secured civil rights for Jews in the countries he had conquered. And just before the clause entered Norwegian law, the King of Denmark had granted citizenship to Jews in his realm.

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