Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2016, 16:22 GMT

U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000 - Iceland

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 5 September 2000
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2000 - Iceland , 5 September 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8a038.html [accessed 30 September 2016]
Comments This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The 2000 Report covers the period from July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice; however, the State financially supports and promotes an official religion, Lutheranism.

The Parliament passed a law in December 1999 that sets down specific conditions and procedures that a religious organization must follow in order to become officially recognized by the State. Such recognition is necessary in order for a religious organization to be eligible for a per capita share of the mandatory church tax that all citizens 16 years of age and above must pay. Otherwise, there was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

Both Government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

The U.S. Government discuses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy or promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The official state religion is Lutheranism.

The salaries of the 146 ministers in the state church are paid directly by the State, and these ministers are considered to be public servants under the Ministry of Judicial and Ecclesiastical Affairs. Except for those who specifically opt out, all citizens 16 years of age and above must pay a church tax of approximately $7 (ISK $479.21) per month, which goes to support the operation of the state church. Individuals who choose to opt out of the state church may direct their monthly payment to another religious denomination or organization, provided that denomination or organization has been recognized and registered as such by the State. In cases where the individual has not indicated a religious affiliation, or belongs to an organization that is not recognized officially and registered by the State, the church fee is directed to a secular institution – the University of Iceland.

A new law passed by Parliament in December 1999 (Law no. 108) sets specific conditions and procedures that religious organizations must follow in order to be recognized officially and registered by the State. Such recognition is necessary in order for religious organizations other than the state church to receive a per capita share of church tax funds. The 1999 law is narrower in scope than the 1975 law it replaced and applies only to religious organizations that are seeking to be, or are already, officially recognized and registered. No restrictions or requirements are placed on unregistered religious organizations, which have the same rights as other groups in society. The law is considered necessary to deal with frequent attempts by individuals to obtain recognition of religious organizations simply to receive the tax income benefits. The Ministry of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs handles applications for recognition and registration of religious organizations. The 1999 law provides for a three-member panel consisting of a theologian, a lawyer, and a social scientist from the University of Iceland to determine the bona fides of the applications. In order to be recognized officially and registered, a religious organization must, among other things, be well established within the country and have a core group of members who regularly practice the religion in compliance with its teachings. All registered religious organizations are required to submit an annual report to the Ministry of Judicial and Ecclesiastical Affairs describing the organization's operations over the past year. The new law also specifies that the leader of a religious organization must be at least 25 years of age and pay taxes in Iceland. However, the previous requirement that the leader had to be Icelandic was eliminated.

Religious Demography

According to the National Statistical Bureau, there were 209,902 Icelanders 16 years of age and over as of December 1, 1999. Of that total, some l65,560, or about 86 percent, were members of the state Lutheran church. Another 8,601 (4 percent) were members of one of three Lutheran Free Churches: Reykjavik Free Church - 4,017; Reykjavik Independent Church - 1,666; and Hafnafjordur Free Church - 2,378. Some 7,277 (3 percent) were members of 19 other recognized and registered religious organizations: Roman Catholic Church - 2,813; Seventh Day Adventists - 563; Pentecostal Assembly - 1,081; Sjonarhaed Congregation - 35; Jehovah's Witnesses - 456; Baha'i Faith - 307; Ash Faith Society - 327; The Cross - 357; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - 107; The Way, Free Church - 463; The Rock, Christian Community - 61; Buddhist Association of Iceland - 332; Kefas, Christian Community - 44; First Baptist Church - 5; Muslim Association - 90; The Icelandic Christ-Church - 108; The Church of Evangelism - 42; The Believers' Fellowship - 30; Zen in Iceland - Night Pasture 1 - 33. In addition, there were 3,978 citizens who belonged to unregistered or unspecified religious organizations and 5,026 who were not part of any religious organization.

A large proportion of citizens who belong to the State Lutheran Church do not practice their faith actively. However, the majority of citizens use traditional Lutheran rituals to mark events such as baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. Of Christians who practice their faith actively, the majority are members of other Christian churches or organizations. There are also religions, such as Judaism, which have been practiced in the country for years but have never requested official recognition. (In official statistics these religions are listed as 'other and non-specified.')

Law no. 108 also confirms that parents control the religious affiliation of their children until the children reach the age of 16. However, parents are required by the law, in accordance with the Children's Act, to "consult" their children about any changes in the children's affiliation after the age of 12. In the absence of specific instructions to the contrary, children at birth are assumed to have the same religious affiliation as their mother and are registered as such.

According to statistics provided by the immigration authorities, the number of foreigners receiving a residence permit has increased significantly during the past several years. In direct relation to the increased number of foreigners (itinerant workers, immigrants, and refugees), the number of religious organizations has increased since such foreigners often practice faiths different than those of citizens born in the country.

The Government is passive rather than proactive in promoting interfaith understanding. The Government does not sponsor programs or official church-Government councils to coordinate interfaith dialog.

The Government requires instruction in religion and ethics based on Christianity in public elementary schools, according to the Law on Elementary Schools No. 66 of 1995. Although there had been a debate whether this instruction should be "Christian" or "religious" instruction, the traditionalist view prevailed. Virtually all schools are public schools, with a few exceptions such as the only Roman Catholic parochial school, which is located in Reykjavik where the vast majority of the country's small Roman Catholic community reside. All schools are subject to Law No. 66 with respect to the compulsory curriculum. However, the precise content of this instruction can vary; religious instruction at the Catholic school follows Catholic rather than Lutheran teachings.

Students can be exempted from Christianity classes. According to Law No. 66, the Minister of Education has the formal authority to exempt pupils from instruction in compulsory subjects such as Christianity. 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 Christianity classes.

Educational material on different religions is part of the compulsory syllabus in secondary school. In addition, since religion is a component of culture, pupils learn about religions other than Christianity in history and social science classes as well. The curriculum is not rigid and teachers often are given wide latitude in the classroom. Some place greater emphasis on ethical and philosophical issues rather than on religious instruction per se.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by the report.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations between religious groups generally are amicable. If members of religious minorities face discrimination, it is more indirect in nature, taking the form of prejudice and lack of interfaith or intercultural understanding. Iceland is a small, close-knit, homogenous society that closely guards its culture and is not accustomed to accommodating outsiders. Even though most citizens are not active members of the state church, it is still an important part of the country's cultural identity.

During the last decade there has been increased awareness of other religious groups. Informal interfaith meetings have occurred. Two local human rights organizations were established recently. Diversity Enriches was established on December 10, 1998. Its board members include government officials, journalists and academics; it aims at assisting "new residents" of the country. The Human Rights Association of Immigrants and their Families was founded on June 12, 1999. These organizations are a reflection of the increased attention being given to the status of new immigrants and their religious beliefs.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.

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