Status Of National Church At Stake

11.10.2012
Words by Paul Fontaine
The church and state have had a "long and happy relationship", says Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, and that the church should be constitutionally protected.

Article 62 of the current constitution states "The Evangelical Lutheran Church shall be the State Church in Iceland and, as such, it shall be supported and protected by the State. This may be amended by law." These two sentences are now the subject of much debate, as Icelanders prepare to vote for some changes to their constitution on October 20.

On that day, Icelanders will vote Yes or No to six different questions regarding the new constitution. One of these questions asks simply, "Do you want the new constitution to have an article on the national church?" Such an article in place, depending on its contents, could continue the constitutional protection that the Church of Iceland currently enjoys, as a national church which receives funding in part from tax revenues. Without such an article, the concept of a national church itself would cease to exist.

The question has been a contentious one in Iceland, although the tide appears to be turning towards separation - in 2010, 73% of Icelanders said they favoured separation of church and state.

RÚV now reports that the debate is still ongoing. At last night's meeting of the Constitutional Society, a group formed in 2010 to support the drafting of a new Constitution to be put to a referendum, numerous Icelanders voiced their concerns both for and against a national church article being in the new constitution. Software specialist Valgarður Guðjónsson said that he believes the article should be removed, as the national church is "built on this article", and that there is no need for the church to be a government office receiving billions of krónur in public support.

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir disagreed. She argued rather that "The church and state have had a long and happy relationship. In addition, the Christian faith has shaped our thinking, ethics and traditions. This is why I believe [the article] is very important."

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