A bill lifting the legal ban on public gatherings and gambling on religious holidays was passed by Alþingi on Tuesday, RÚV reports.
Per a law that went into effect in 1997, it was technically illegal for Icelanders to engage in any form of gambling – such as bingo or the lottery – or to hold dances or private parties in restaurants or other public venues on Sundays, as well as on traditionally Christian public holidays such as Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. This law was not, however, enforced and had long been protested by organizations such as Vantrú, an atheist organisation that has hosted a well-publicised Good Friday Bingo event every year for over a decade.
The bill was introduced by Independence Party MP and former Attorney General Sigríður Á. Andersen in February. It was approved with 44 votes in its favour on Tuesday and had support on both sides of the political spectrum, although this was not true among Centre Party MPs, all of whom voted against it.
In addition to overturning prohibitions on various entertainments on religious holidays, the new bill also overturns previous legal articles which prohibited “hotel operations and related services, the operation of pharmacies, gas stations, car garages, shops at airports and duty free, flower shops, kiosks, video rentals, as well as grocers with a retail space of less than 600 square metres (6,458 sq ft) where at least two thirds of the sales turnover is from foodstuffs, beverages, and tobacco.”
The“bingo ban” law made exemptions allowing art exhibitions, film screenings, and theatre performances to go on during religious holidays, but only after 3.00pm. (This limitation has also now been lifted.)
“With this, the last impediments to providing and enjoying services on the National Church’s specified religious holidays have been eliminated,” wrote Sigríður in a post on her Facebook page. She reiterated, however, that “…the bill was not intended to decrease the significance of religious holidays. The days in question are part of our Christian heritage and as such, they should of course be commemorated as they arise. However, everyone must get to do this in their own way.”