The constitution states all individuals have the right to form religious associations and practice religion in accordance with their personal beliefs, as long as nothing is “preached or practiced which is prejudicial to good morals or public order.” It stipulates everyone has the right to remain outside religious associations and no one shall be required to pay any personal dues to any religious association of which he or she is not a member. The constitution also specifies individuals may not lose their civil or national rights or refuse to perform civic duties on religious grounds. The constitution bans only religious teachings or practices harmful to good morals or the public order. The law further specifies the right of individuals to choose or change their religion.
The official state religion is Lutheranism. The constitution establishes the ELC as the national church and grants it state support and protection. The law grants the ELC official legal status, and the government directly funds the Church from the state budget. This is in addition to the indirect funding the ELC receives along with other registered religious and lifestyle groups from church taxes.
The penal code establishes fines and up to two years’ imprisonment for hate speech, including mocking, defaming, denigrating, or threatening an individual or group by comments, pictures, or symbols based on religion. In July parliament repealed a separate provision of the penal code prohibiting blasphemy. Previously the blasphemy law had established fines and imprisonment of up to three months for those who publicly derided or belittled the religious doctrines or the worship of a “lawfully existing religious community” active in the country.
Religious groups, other than the ELC, and lifestyle organizations apply for recognition and registration to a district commissioner, who forwards the application to the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). By law the minister of the interior appoints a four-member panel to review the applications. The chairman of the panel is nominated by a university faculty of law, and the other three members are nominated by the University of Iceland’s Departments of Social and Human Sciences, Theology and Religious Studies, and History and Philosophy, respectively. To register, a religious group must “practice a creed or religion” and a lifestyle organization must operate in accordance with certain ethical values, and “deal with ethics or epistemology in a prescribed manner.” Religious groups and secular humanist 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 it was founded on, and pay church taxes in accordance with the law on church taxes.”
The law also specifies the leader of a religious group or a lifestyle organization must be at least 25 years old and fulfill the general requirements of holding a public position. These include being physically and mentally healthy and financially sound, and having a clean criminal record and the general and specialized education legally required for the position. Unlike the requirements for most public positions, the religious group leader need not be a citizen or have legal domicile in the country. All registered religious groups and lifestyle organizations must submit an annual report to a district commissioner describing the group’s operations during the previous year. Religious groups and lifestyle organizations are required to perform state-sanctioned functions such as marriages and the official naming of children and also preside over other ceremonies such as funerals. The law places no restrictions or requirements on unregistered religious groups, but they cannot carry out legally recognized ceremonies such as marriages or receive any state funds.
The law provides state subsidies to registered religious groups and lifestyle organizations. For each individual 16 years of age and older who belongs to any one of the officially registered and recognized religious groups and lifestyle organizations, the government allocates an annual payment of 9,888 kronur (ISK) ($76.25) out of income taxes, called the “church tax,” to the individual’s respective organization.
By law a child’s affiliation, or nonaffiliation, with a registered religious or secular humanist group is as follows: (1) if the parents are married or in registered cohabitation and both belong to either the same registered organization or no organization, then the child’s affiliation shall be the same as its parents; (2) if the parents are married or in registered cohabitation, but have different affiliations or if one parent is nonaffiliated, then the parents shall make a joint decision on what organization, if any, the child should be affiliated with; until the parents make this decision, the child shall remain nonaffiliated; (3) if the parents are not married or not in registered cohabitation when the child is born, the child shall be affiliated with the same registered organization, if any, as the parent who has custody over the child. 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 between age 12 and 16.
By law, school grades one through 10 (ages six-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 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.
By law, school authorities may exempt pupils from compulsory instruction in 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. The principal then registers the application as a “special case” and writes an official response to the parents, accepting or denying the request. School authorities are not required to offer other religious or secular instruction in place of these classes.
Of the 12 largest municipalities in the country, eight have adopted guidelines or rules governing the interaction between schools and religious/lifestyle groups. The Reykjavik City Council prohibits religious and lifestyle groups from conducting any activities, including the distribution of proselytizing material, in municipal preschools and compulsory schools (grades one through 10) during school hours, or during afterschool programs. Reykjavik school administrators, however, can invite the representatives of religious and secular humanist groups to visit the compulsory classes on Christianity, ethics, and theology and on life skills. These visits must be under the guidance of a teacher and in accordance with the curriculum. Any student visits to the gathering places of religious and lifestyle groups during school hours must be under the guidance of a teacher as part of a class on religion and lifestyle views. During such classes or visits, students may only observe rituals, not participate in them. The municipality of Hafnarfjordur has similar rules governing the interaction between schools and religious/lifestyle organizations. The other six municipalities have either adopted or adapted guidelines on these interactions that the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture has set. The ministry’s guidelines are broadly similar to those of Reykjavik and Hafnarfjordur.