Bishop of Iceland Karl Sigurbjörnsson met with Minister of Education Thorgerdur Katrín Gunnarsdóttir yesterday to discuss the ministry’s new educational policy regarding the State Church’s presence in schools, e.g., in relation to confirmation.
A letter from the Ministry of Education was delivered to all elementary schools in Iceland earlier this month, stating the Church’s confirmation courses should not take place during school hours and that students should not be given days off for trips organized by the Church in relation to confirmation, 24 Stundir reports.
The Bishop criticized the ministry for not delivering the letter to any representatives of the State Church despite the fact that 90 percent of all children are confirmed in the church. The Bishop also said children are frequently given days off to go on different kinds of trips and that no child is obligated to go to confirmation courses if his or her parents are against it.
The Bishop said the Church and the schools should reach an agreement on how parents obtain leave for their children to pursue their confirmation studies. “The State Church wants to be the ally of the homes in this country, of the parents.”
After the meeting it was determined that confirmation trips during school hours should continue, “but if the Ministry of Education believes certain regulations are required, the State Church is happy to cooperate,” the Bishop said.
Bjarni Jónsson, vice-chairman of Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association in Iceland, does not approve of the outcome of the meeting. “Elementary schools are not permitted to mix Christian education with general teaching. That is clear [in the letter]. […] The Church has to accept this and give way.”
Sidmennt would like to see everything related to Christianity disappear from elementary schools in Iceland, apart from Christmas and Easter vacations which they say is related to wage contracts. The schools should not have anything to do with nativity plays, going to masses or the distribution of free Bibles, Jónsson said.
According to four new bills on educational reforms introduced by Minister of Education this week, instruction in Christian theology will be replaced in elementary schools with secular courses on general ethics.
The general policy in this matter is to separate the educational system and the Church.
Click here to read more about the educational reforms.