The majority within the Reykjavík City human rights council has proposed changes to the cooperation between the National Church and schools, which include prohibiting missionaries, distribution of religious material, church visits and confirmation lessons during school hours.
Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík. Photo by Páll Kjartansson.
If accepted, employees of religious associations will no longer play any part in the work of elementary schools and kindergartens, the cooperation between the National Church and schools will discontinue and when assistance is required due to emotional trauma, “professionals” such as psychologists will be called for rather than priests, Fréttabladid reports.
Rev. Halldór Reynisson, project lead of the National Church’s educational division, said he is surprised by these proposals. He is not aware that school managers are dissatisfied with the cooperation between the National Church and the city’s schools.
Regarding “professionals” being called for in cases of emotional trauma, Reynisson stated priests are professionals. “In very traumatic cases such as when someone dies, we are the professionals. If we cannot be called for to protect the children’s welfare they are not being provided with the best possible service.”
Margrét Sverrisdóttir, chair of the city’s human right council, said the proposals are in a gray area, adding that parents are of course free to provide their children with any crisis council they see fit. However, representatives of religious associations are not to take care of such duties on behalf of schools during school hours.
“The school has its role and the church another. Each institution must respect each other’s role but in order to do so, clear regulations must be made,” Sverrisdóttir stated.
She emphasized that the council’s proposals do not include changes to the syllabus, such as Christianity lessons, Christmas handicraft lessons, carol singing and related issues.
Björk Vilhelmsdóttir, chair of Reykjavík City’s welfare council, said it is important that the city and church work on these ideas together.
It isn’t wise to discontinue a cooperation that has been in place for decades without consulting one of the parties involved, she said. “It is a basic issue to respect people’s religious freedom but also their right to be religious.”