The constitution and other laws and policies generally protect religious freedom. The constitution 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 national 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 ELC ministers to these parishes. The state directly pays the salaries of the 140 ministers in the national church, who are considered public servants under the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). State radio broadcasts Lutheran 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 establishes fines and up to two years imprisonment for verbal or physical assault on an individual or group based on religion.
The law provides state subsidies to registered religious groups. Taxpayers, 16 years of age and older, who belong to any one of the officially registered and recognized religious groups and secular humanist organizations pay an annual church tax payment of ISK 8,741 ($76), to their respective group.
Religious groups and secular humanist organizations apply to the MOI for recognition and registration. By law, a four-member panel reviews the applications. The chairman of the panel is nominated by a university law faculty, and the other three members are nominated by the University of Iceland’s Department of Social and Human Sciences, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, and Department of History and Philosophy, respectively. To register, a religious group must “practice a creed or religion” and a secular philosophical organization must “be based on secular views, operate in accordance with certain ethical values and personal development, and deal with ethics or epistemology in a prescribed manner.” Both must also “be well established, be active and stable, not have a purpose that violates the law or is prejudicial to good morals or public order, and have a core group of members who participate in its operations and support the values of the organization in compliance with its teachings and pay church taxes in the country in accordance with the Law on Church Taxes.” The organization, whether religious or secular, shall administer certain ceremonies, such as funerals, weddings, baptisms or naming ceremonies, and confirmations or other comparable ceremonies. All registered religious groups and secular humanist organizations 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 or a secular humanist organization must be at least 25 years old and pay church taxes. Registered religious groups and secular humanist organizations receive state subsidies based on membership numbers. The law places no restrictions or requirements on unregistered religious groups.
By law parents control the affiliation of their children to religious or secular humanist groups until the age of 16. Change in 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. The law 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.
Virtually all schools are public schools. By law, school grades one through 10 (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.
The Reykjavik City Council prohibits religious and secular humanist groups from conducting any activities, including the distribution of proselytizing material, in municipal kindergartens and public schools (grades one through 10) during school hours. Reykjavik city school administrators can invite the representatives of religious and secular philosophical groups to visit classes on religion or life skills as part of the compulsory curriculum. These visits must be under the guidance of a teacher and be in accordance with the curriculum. Any student visits to the gathering places of religious and secular humanist groups during school hours are under the guidance of a teacher as part of a class on religion.