The constitution states all individuals have the right to form religious associations and practice religion in accordance with personal beliefs. As specified in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the country is a signatory, the constitution bans only religious teachings or practices which are harmful to good morals or the public order, a determination made with reference to the penal code’s stipulation that no one may ridicule, slander, insult, threaten, or “otherwise assault” a person or group on account of religion. The government has not had occasion to make such a determination.
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 130 ministers in the national church, who are considered public servants under the MOI. State radio broadcasts Lutheran worship services every Sunday morning as well as 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 “lawfully existing religious community” 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.
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 operate in accordance with certain ethical values, and “deal with ethics or epistemology in a prescribed manner.” Religious groups and secular organizations 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, support the values of the organization in compliance with its teachings, and pay church taxes in accordance with the law.
The law also specifies 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. 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. Religious groups and secular organizations can administer state-sanctioned weddings and preside over the official naming of children as well as administer purely religious ceremonies such as funerals and baptisms. The law places no restrictions or requirements on unregistered religious groups.
The law provides state subsidies to registered religious groups and secular humanist organizations. For each individual 16 years of age and older who belongs to any one of the officially registered and recognized religious groups and secular humanist organizations, the government currently allocates an annual payment of 9,000 kroner (ISK) ($71) out of income taxes, called the “church tax”, to the individual’s respective organization.
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, the consent of the noncustodial parent is not required. The law requires parents to consult their children about any changes in the child’s affiliation after the age of 12.
Virtually all schools are public schools. By law, school grades one through 10 (ages 6-15) in public and private schools must include instruction in social studies, which includes subjects such as Christianity, ethics, and theology. The law also mandates the teaching of “the Christian heritage of Icelandic culture, equality, democratic cooperation, responsibility, concern, forgiveness, and respect for human values.” 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 social studies rubric along with sociology, philosophy, and history.
By law, school authorities may exempt pupils from instruction in compulsory subjects such as Christianity, ethics, and theology. To exempt students, parents must submit a written application to the school principal. The principal may request additional information if necessary. For both approved and denied cases, the principal then registers the application as a “special case” and writes an official response to the parents. School authorities are not required to 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 preschools and compulsory schools (grades one through 10) during school hours. Reykjavik school administrators can invite the representatives of religious and secular humanist groups to visit classes on religion/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 must be under the guidance of a teacher as part of a class on religion and secular humanist views. During these classes, whether they take place away from or at school, students may only observe rituals, but not participate in them.