The pending constitution could lead to a separation of church and state for Iceland, but the matter is far from as simple as it seems.
RÚV reports that Article 19 of the draft of the new constitution was discussed at a clerical meeting yesterday. In English, the article states simply, “The church organisation of the state may be determined by law. In cases where Althingi amends the status of the church of the state the matter shall be referred to the referendum of all qualified voters in the country for approval or rejection.”
Hjalti Hugason, a professor in theology at the University of Iceland, said that he believes that should the article make it into the final constitution, human rights will take precedence over the existence of a national church. The state of the church will therefore be decided by law; not be the new constitution.
Rev. Gunnlaugur Stefánsson disagreed with Hjalti’s position, pointing out rather that he believes the separation of church and state is already underway. While Hjalti responded that he did not believe the separation of church and state had already begun, Article 19 could very well make it happen, although it would be far from a simple process.
In fact, Article 19 makes a theoretical process fairly plain. If a parliamentary majority approves a measure calling for the separation of church and state, the matter would then be put up for public referendum for final approval. By 2010 figures, some 73% of Icelanders support separation of church and state.