The constitution and other laws and policies protect religious freedom. The constitution also provides all persons the right to form religious associations and to practice religion in accordance with their personal beliefs. The constitution bans teachings or practices harmful to good morals or public order.
The official state religion is Lutheranism. Article 62 of the constitution establishes the ELC as the state church and pledges it the state’s support and protection. The state operates a network of Lutheran parish churches throughout the country, and the Lutheran bishop appoints state church ministers to these parishes. The state directly pays the salaries of the 149 ministers in the state church, and these ministers are considered public servants under the Ministry of the Interior. These ministers counsel persons of all faiths and offer ecumenical services for marriages and funerals. In addition state radio broadcasts worship services every Sunday morning and daily morning and evening devotions.
The General Penal Code protects religious practice by establishing fines and imprisonment for up to three months for those who publicly deride or belittle the religious doctrines or the worship of a lawful religious association active in the country. The General Penal Code also establishes penalties of fines and up to two years in prison for verbal or physical assault on an individual or group based on religion.
The law provides state subsidies to registered religious organizations. All taxpayers 16 years of age and older must pay a church tax of approximately ISK 8,376 ($70). Individuals may direct their church tax payments to any of the religious groups the state has officially registered and recognized. Those persons who are not registered as belonging to a religious organization, or who belong to one that is not registered and officially recognized, pay the equivalent of the church tax to the state treasury.
During the year, the government provided the state church approximately ISK 4.4 billion ($38.3 million). Of that amount, the church tax funded ISK 1.63 billion ($14.2 million) and general revenues ISK 1.89 billion ($16.4 million). A cemetery tax funded the remaining ISK 845 million ($7.3 million). The state church operates all cemeteries and all recognized religious groups have equal access to them. The church tax also provided ISK 227 million ($1.97 million) to the other recognized religious groups.
The Ministry of the Interior handles applications for recognition and registration of religious organizations. The law provides for a three-member panel consisting of a theologian, a lawyer, and a social scientist to review applications. To register, a religious organization must “practice a creed or religion that can be linked to the religions of humankind that have historical or cultural roots...be well established...be active and stable...have a core group of members who regularly practice the religion in compliance with its teachings and should pay church taxes....” All registered religious organizations are required to submit an annual report to the ministry describing the organization’s operations over the past year. The law also specifies that the leader of a religious organization must be at least 25 years old and pay taxes in the country. No restrictions or requirements are placed on unregistered religious organizations, which have the same rights as other groups in society.
The law states that parents control the religious affiliation of their children until the children reach the age of 16. Changes in religious affiliation of children under age 16 require the consent of both parents if they both have custody; if only one parent has custody, then the consent of the noncustodial parent is not required. However, the Law on Registered Religious Organizations requires that parents consult their children about any changes children want in their affiliation after the age of 12, and such changes require the requesting children’s signatures. Children at birth are registered as having the same religious affiliation as their mothers, in the absence of specific instructions to the contrary from both parents (or from the mother only if the father is not claiming paternal rights or is unknown).
Virtually all schools are public schools. School grades 1-10 (ages 6-15) are required by law to include instruction in Christianity, ethics, and theology. The law also mandates that general teaching practices be shaped by “the Christian heritage of Icelandic culture, equality, responsibility, concern, tolerance, and respect for human value.” The compulsory curriculum for Christianity, ethics, and theology does, however, suggest a multicultural approach to religious education and places an emphasis on teaching a variety of beliefs. In secondary schools, theology continues to be taught under the rubric of “community studies” along with sociology, philosophy, and history.
The law provides the minister of education with the authority to exempt pupils from instruction in compulsory subjects such as Christianity, ethics, and theology. In practice individual school authorities issue exemptions informally. There is no obligation for school authorities to offer other religious or secular instruction in place of these classes. Some observers have noted that this discourages students or their parents from requesting such exemptions and may isolate students who seek exemptions or put them at risk of bullying in schools.
In October, the Reykjavik City Council passed rules on the access of religious organizations to public schools (grades 1-10) in the municipality. According to the new rules, religious groups were not allowed to conduct any activities, including the distribution of proselytizing material, in the schools during school hours. Any student visits to the gathering places of religious organizations during school hours had to be under the guidance of a teacher as part of a class on religions. Any such instruction could not involve the active participation of students.
The towns of Alftanes and Mosfellsbaer, in cooperation with the state church, continued to run a pastoral care program for students under which a pastor comes to the classroom and provides guidance on a variety of subjects. The Ethical Humanist Association, Sidmennt, and representatives of nonstate religious organizations continued their public criticism of the program’s use in public schools, claiming that the pastoral care program contained aspects of religious indoctrination.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension Day, Whit Monday, Christmas Eve (afternoon only), Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.