The Icelandic Parliament (Althing) passed a new law yesterday (30 January, 2013) which for first time in Icelandic history recognizes and guarantees equality between secular and religious life stances. The new law gives secular life stance organizations the right to apply for equal legal status with religious organizations.
The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Sidmennt (a national Member Organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, IHEU) has been campaigning for a reform like this for over a decade. They are celebrating the law as a "historic turning point", said Hope Knutsson, President of Sidmennt. "As soon as the law takes effect, Sidmennt will apply to the Ministry of the Interior for registration which will guarantee equal rights and freedom of conscience to its 300 members. Sidmennt is grateful to the Minister of the Interior, Ogmundur Jonasson, who introduced and championed this human rights bill and to all those members of Parliament who voted in favor of it.
"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 in Iceland including 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.
"Although this law is an important step towards equality, the government is not changing the privileged status of the Evangelical Lutheran State Church, which enjoys both legal and financial privileges over all other life stance organizations."
President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Sonja Eggerickx, said: "Many congratulations to Sidmennt on their achievement. The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, like most of our members in Europe and elsewhere, takes an active role in working for change. They are not only talking about Humanism, not only flagging up discrimination where it occurs, but actively lobbying, working with parliamentarians and others to reform the law in favour of equality. This is real progress for the state of Iceland. There is more yet to be done before the state achieves full secular equality, but in the meantime we can celebrate this significant step in the right direction."