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 personal beliefs. The constitution bans teachings or practices harmful to good morals or public order.
The official state religion is Lutheranism. The constitution establishes the ELC as the state church and grants it state 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, who are considered public servants under the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). 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 establishes fines and imprisonment of 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 groups. All taxpayers 16 years of age and older must pay a church tax of approximately 8,412 Icelandic Krona (ISK) ($65). Individuals may direct their church tax payments to any of the officially registered and recognized religious groups. Those persons who are not registered as belonging to a religious group, or who belong to one that is not registered and officially recognized, pay the equivalent of the church tax to the state treasury.
Religious groups apply to the MOI for recognition and registration. By law, a three-member panel consisting of a theologian, a lawyer, and a social scientist reviews applications. To register, a religious group 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 groups must submit an annual report to the MOI describing the group’s operations over the past year. The law also specifies that the leader of a religious group must be at least 25 years old and pay taxes in the country. Registered religious groups receive state subsidies based on membership numbers. The law places no restrictions or requirements on unregistered religious groups.
By law, parents control the religious affiliation of their children until the age of 16. Change in religious affiliation of children under age 16 requires the consent of both parents if 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 in the child’s affiliation after the age of 12, and such changes require the child’s signature. By law, children at birth have the same religious affiliation as their mothers, in the absence of specific instructions to the contrary from both parents or from the mother if the father does not claim paternal rights or is unknown.
Virtually all schools are public schools. By law, school grades one through ten (ages 6-15) must include instruction in community studies, which includes subjects such as Christianity, ethics, and theology. The law also mandates that “the Christian heritage of Icelandic culture, equality, responsibility, concern, tolerance, and respect for human value” shape general teaching practices. The compulsory curriculum for Christianity, ethics, and theology takes a multicultural approach to religious education and emphasizes teaching a variety of beliefs. Secondary schools teach theology under the community studies rubric along with sociology, philosophy, and history.
By law, the education minister may exempt pupils from instruction in compulsory subjects such as Christianity, ethics, and theology, and individual school authorities issue exemptions informally. School authorities need not offer other religious or secular instruction in place of these classes. Some observers note that this discourages students or their parents from requesting exemptions and potentially isolates students seeking exemptions or puts them at risk of bullying in schools.
The Reykjavik City Council prohibits religious groups from conducting any activities, including the distribution of proselytizing material, in the municipal public schools (grades one through ten) during school hours. Any student visits to the gathering places of religious groups during school hours are under the guidance of a teacher as part of a class on religion. Any such instruction cannot involve the active participation of students in a religious service.
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.