Separation of Church and State (KH)


katharinahauptmann02_dlOn Monday I was driving home in my car when I heard the news on the radio.

One news item in particular sparked my interest: Members of the Constitutional Council have proposed that the question of whether the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland should remain a state-run institution or not should be up for a national referendum.

Good news.

Until recently I didn't even know that Iceland had an official state church. The thought just didn't cross my mind because I've never had the impression that Icelanders are particularly religious or go to church every Sunday. Also, my home country Germany doesn't have a state church so I guess I'm just used to it.

I talked about this topic with some of my Icelandic friends and they were all pro separation.

This is not a surprise given the public opinion; a Capacent Gallup poll from October 2010 shows that in fact 73 percent of Icelanders would vote in favor of the separation of church and state.

I think this is a strong statement.

People have lost their trust in the church as an institution and in its clergy. “It's a dry, bigoted institution based on nepotism,” said one of my friends. I can understand that.

Having a state church seems totally absurd to me, to be honest. It just seems so outmoded.

In recent years there have been frequent reports in the Icelandic media about said nepotism and sadly also about sexual abuse scandals involving the clergy.

The poll also stated that only 24 percent of Icelanders approved of the Office of the Bishop of Iceland (the incumbent is Karl Sigurbjörnsson). In fact, the reputation of the Bishop of Iceland has dropped significantly in the past years.

No wonder if one regards the fact that the former and late bishop of Iceland, Ólafur Skúlason, has been accused of sexually harassing three women. The investigation is ongoing.

Nobody can expect the people of Iceland (or of any other country) to trust and believe in their church and its priests if the head of the church itself commits such a hideous crime. Why support such a foul institution?

But Iceland isn't the only country dealing with these issues.

I'm not sure what consequences the people of Iceland would face if the proposition would be granted and the Church of Iceland would no longer be a state institution.

But I guess the majority of the people would be pleased that their state didn’t officially approve of a church in which the nation itself doesn't believe and, most importantly, doesn't trust. Or in some cases even loathe.

I wouldn't want my state supporting a church that I absolutely object to.

I personally hope the proposition will be brought to referendum as it seems to be the people's wish.

Let the state be religiously neutral and let people worship whoever they fancy—or not. That's fair and equal.

But that's just my opinion.

I have faith that the people of Iceland will make the right choice.

Katharina Hauptmann – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.