Iceland Takes Step in Right Direction

Congratulations to the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, which won a major battle when that nation’s parliament passed a law recognizing secular organizations as almost equal under the law to religious ones. Secular groups can now apply for equal status:

The Icelandic Parliament (Althing) this week passed a law which gives secular life stance organisations the right to apply for equal legal status with religions. The new law amends the current law about registered religious organisations. Thus, for the first time in Icelandic history, the government recognizes and guarantees equality between secular and religious life stances!

But part of this is only a partial victory:

An additional improvement provided by this law is that newborn babies will no longer automatically be registered into the religion of the mother, but rather according to the religious or life stance registration of both parents, and only if the registrations match. Sidmennt members and many other people inIcelandincluding many legislators feel that this does not go far enough and that it is a human rights violation for government to be involved at all in registering people’s religious affiliation and is especially abnormal to register newborn babies in a religion. The sponsors of the new law say they want to work towards abolishing this anachronism but think it can only be done in stages.

Yes, the idea of the government keeping a registry of those who belong to each religion, especially when it is assigned at birth rather than when one joins a church, is pretty creepy. Hopefully they’ll reach their final goal there soon. Also, Iceland still has an official church, Evangelical Lutheran, that receives special protections and taxpayer funds, though like most European nations with such churches, it has very little effect on actual belief. In time, I hope they disestablish that church as well.

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  • =8)-DX

    I don’t see it as that creepy, I mean its basically statistics, like they collect during any census, or the miriad of other information collected at birth. Labelling babies as having a religion doesn’t make sense, but if you want to calculate percentages of the population of a given faith, since the parents’ religion is strongly correlated to future religious belief, you can’t ignore it.

    I’d add some “opt in/out” of the registry at 18. Send the youngsters a form at 18 where they either confirm their religion, opt out or are removed from the registry (marked “nonreligious”).

  • Taking statistical samples in order to figure out what percentage of the population subscribe to is one thing. Keeping a database in which every citizen has a religion assigned to them at birth really is Orwellian.

  • paulparnell

    If they keep a list of names then yes it is creepy. If they keep statistics based on religion of parents then they are doing it wrong. Whatever they are doing is useless and stupid.

  • vmanis1

    I have no idea why Iceland keeps such records. However, many European countries do, and if combined with strong privacy laws, it’s nothing to be afraid of.

    On the other hand, it seems unnecessary. The only reason I can think of is that it can help expedite suitable counselling in case of disaster (that’s why hospitals ask this question). +1 for the idea of sending a letter at 18 asking if the person wants that removed.

  • Erp

    Actually it probably has to do with taxes. A portion of one’s taxes goes to your registered religion or presumably to the life stance group (or to the government if you aren’t registered).

    I note that the Icelandic Humanists like their Norwegian counterparts have a humanist confirmation ceremony (proceeded by a several week course). I’m interested if anyone knows the details of what is included in the course.

  • DonDueed

    They should just register every kid as a Mormon. They’ll all end up that way anyhow… though in most cases only after they die.

  • John Horstman

    @5: Yes, privacy laws are oh-so-helpful if, say, a charismatic dictator hell-bent on exterminating a particular religious group gains control of a European country. Of course, the odds of that happening are tiny, so we probably shouldn’t worry. I mean, it’s not like there’s any historical precedent informing the evaluation that such a practice is creepy and potentially dangerous.