Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999 - Iceland

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 9 September 1999
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999 - Iceland , 9 September 1999, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
Comments The Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describes the status of religious freedom in each foreign country, and government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. It is submitted in compliance with P.L. 105-292 (105th Congress) and is cited as the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
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.

Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The official state religion is Lutheranism. Each year the state church receives a tax payment from each member age 16 years and over (184,050 persons). Icelanders are assumed to be members of the state church unless they specifically opt out. If they opt out, they are permitted (but not required) to cite another religious preference. If they state another religious preference, they can earmark their tax payment for their favored denomination or sect. The number of persons in this category totaled 14,396. However, salaries of state church ministers are paid by the State, whereas other ministers' salaries are not. Persons who choose not to belong to any specific, organized religious group pay their religion tax to a secular institution – the University of Iceland.

Religious organizations other than the state church must be recognized and registered as such by the Ministry of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs to receive the per capita tax funds. The established requirements of the Government for recognition of religious organizations are based on Law No. 18 of 1975. The Ministry of Justice and Ecclesiastical Affairs handles applications for recognition. It relies upon the professional advice of theologians and social scientists to determine the bona fides of requests for recognition. According to an official at the Ministry, there have been instances in which persons have tried to obtain recognition of a religious organization simply to receive the tax income/benefits.

About 90 percent of the population are registered as members of the state Lutheran church. A large proportion of these persons do not practice their faith actively. The majority of the state church's registered adherents 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 groups 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." Churches and religious organizations other than the state church which are formally recognized by the Government are registered at the Statistical Bureau – National Register of Persons. As of January 1, 1999, there were a total of 21 such organizations.

According to the National Register of Persons, as of December 1, 1998, of a total population age 16 and over of 206,701, membership in religious organizations was as follows: state Lutheran Church – 184,050; Lutheran Free Churches (3) – 7,614; Reykjavik Free Church – 3,896; Reykjavik Independent Church – 1,453; Hafnarfjordur Free Church – 2,265; Roman Catholic Church – 2,592; Seventh-Day Adventists – 557; Pentecostal Assembly – 1,001; Sjonarhaed Congregation – 34; Jehovah's Witnesses-443; Baha'i community-325; Ash Faith Society – 285; The Cross-374; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – 104; The Way, Free Church – 466; The Rock-Christian Community – 58; Buddhist Association of Iceland-293; Kefas-Christian Community – 38; First Baptist Church – 3; Muslim Association – 70; The Iceland Christ Church-85; The Church of Evangelism – 33; The Believers'Fellowship – 21; other and not specified – 3,427; and outside religious organizations – 4,828. This last category encompasses persons who have willingly and voluntarily excluded themselves from any religious organization whatsoever.

There were no reports of incidents in which the Government restricted organized religions in establishing places of worship. However, in one incident, the Buddhist Association of Iceland was refused a license to construct a place of worship by the municipality in question for environmental reasons. (The selected area is a breeding ground for some protected bird species.)

According to statistics provided by the immigration authorities, the number of foreigners receiving a residence permit has increased significantly during the last 2 or 3 years. In direct relation with 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.

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.

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 during the period covered by this report. 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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