There is a big debate driving everyone a little crazy in Iceland right now. The Reykjavik Human Rights Committee published a report where they stated that there is a need to draw a line between the work of religious institutions and the school system. They suggested for instance that representatives from the church should be banned from going to the schools and that confirmation classes should not be held during school hours. They also recommend that instead of the schools calling in priests to help children with emotional problems/trauma they should call in trained professionals such as psychiatrists.
I think most people in Iceland agree with this. Of course the church should not be allowed to send priests to the schools to preach to children against the parents’ wishes! This has been going on for a long time and a lot of people are not happy with it. I remember having to fight my teachers every year about sending me to church on Christmas (I am not religious). Children of parents who are not Christian often feel left out when all the others are sent to confirmation classes. Representatives of religions other than the National Church are also vastly underrepresented.
It’s obvious to me that this is a good thing.
Of course many argue against it. The leading arguments seem to be: “What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s hurting anyone!” And “it never caused me any harm!” And “next thing we know they’ll be banning Christmas decorations and Little Christmas*!” Also “what happened to teaching children good Christian values? We are a Christian nation!”
I am going to tackle these arguments one at a time.
1. What is the harm?
Most (if not all) of the people who use this argument are Christian Icelanders. Many of them mention that they are not very religious themselves and seem to think that this justifies their argument. Kids who are Christian or don’t care aren’t likely to even notice the Church being there at all, therefore they don’t feel that they’ve been harmed in any way. What about muslim children? Hindu? Buddhist? Jehova’s Witnesses? These children do notice, they feel ostracized. Their parents feel that their power over what their children are being told has been taken out of their hands.
Sure, they aren’t going to be physically harmed, but it can cause them emotional strain. Besides, it’s not about whether people are harmed. It’s about their right to choose. It’s about parents’ rights over their own children. Whether some Icelandic, white, Christian dude felt he’d been harmed by it or not has nothing to do with it.
Like someone on Facebook said: “My friend’s mom smoked and drank while she was pregnant with my friend. This friend of mine is now a well educated, healthy woman. Therefore smoking and drinking during pregnancy isn’t harmful.” It’s a shitty argument!
2. Banning Christmas! Oh nooooo!
It is clearly stated in the report that they have no intention of banning Little Christmas and forbidding children from expressing their own religious beliefs. Christmas isn’t about religion to most kids in Iceland. I don’t think so anyway. I’m not religious and I celebrate Christmas (or yule more like). It’s a fun family tradition where they get lots of presents. It’s completely different from priests coming into the schools trying to recruit kids against the will of their parents. Even if they did ban Christmas celebrations in the school out of respect for non-Christian children, would that be the end of the world? No.
3. Good Christian values
I’m so tired of Christian people claiming that the Bible/God is the only source of “good values” and morality. The schools are supposed to teach children to have compassion and respect for each other, and the difference between right and wrong. They don’t need the church to do so. All these “Christian values” are actually for the most part human values and many of them are universal. Removing the Church from the school isn’t going to turn all the children into amoral monsters. If the parents want to instill “Christian values” in their children they can do so at home.
4. We are a Christian nation
Yeah, about that. We may be culturally Christian…but I don’t think most Icelanders are particularly religious. Even if this statement were to stand, it still wouldn’t be a valid argument against this move. The opinion of the majority is not always right and should never be used as an argument against human rights. Even though non-Christians are the minority they still have a right to be able to send their children to school and trust that they won’t have to suffer attempts from the Christian church to convert them.
*Small Christmas celebrations in the schools shortly before Christmas vacations begin.