Civil confirmation in Iceland

Civil confirmation is a secular alternative to religious confirmation. The Icelandic civil confirmation program consists of a 12 week educational program and ceremony for teenagers aged 13-14.

At the end of the course there is a festive cultural and musical ceremony where some of the kids perform by giving speeches, reading poetry, playing instruments, singing, dancing, doing stand-up or a sketch. In addition, a prominent member of Icelandic society gives a speech about what makes life meaningful, the importance of being honest and true to one’s values, and the right to be different. At the end of the one hour ceremony each teenager receives a diploma rolled up like a scroll and tied with a colorful ribbon. The English translation of the text on the diplomas is:

Civil confirmation (year)
It is hereby confirmed that (name of individual)                                          
has completed the Sidmennt civil confirmation course.
It is our hope that you will use the instruction and guidance that you have received to be a broad-minded person of great integrity. Welcome into the society of adulthood with all the responsibilities that go with it. 
Date and place,

On behalf of Siðmennt (Humanist logo)   Signature: Hope Knutsson

Some of the topics covered during the 12 week course are:

  • critical thinking
  • ethics
  • human relations
  • human rights
  • media literacy
  • skepticism
  • what it means to be an adult and take responsibility for your opinions and behavior
  • being a teenager in a consumer society
  • relations with parents
  • prejudice and multiculturalism
  • substance abuse
  • self-image
  • happiness
  • the meaning of life
  • respecting the environment

Short video clips from our confirmations in recent years are on our website.

At the time of writing this (June 2016) a total of 2,947 Icelandic teenagers have participated in Sidmennt’s civil confirmation and 36,500 guests have attended the ceremonies over the 28 years since it began. There are now second-generation kids in the program. For each of the past 3 years, more than 300 teenagers have participated in the annual civil confirmation program. In 2016 there were 340 enrolled in 13 classes and 10 ceremonies were held in several parts of the country. The population of Iceland is only 330,000 people.

Sidmennt has provided an important secular alternative coming-of-age program for Icelanders. The program has grown enormously over the years and spread to other parts of the country than the capital area. In the last years, Sidmennt has surveyed the participants about their satisfaction with the secular course and ceremony. The level of satisfaction has been 97% on average.

Siðmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association was founded in 1990 by some of the families that participated in the first civil confirmation program and now offers secular baby-namings, weddings and funerals conducted by trained celebrants. The first civil confirmation ceremony in Iceland was conducted in 1989.

Life stances and religious views of Icelanders

The survey results indicate that secular philosophies of life are rapidly gaining ground in Iceland. The status of the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran state church has probably never been weaker and fewer and fewer Icelanders are in favor of government involvement in religion or belief. The complete results of the survey are posted (in Icelandic) at the bottom of this page.


Blasphemy Law Abolished in Iceland!

Dómkirkjan og AlþingiIceland’s parliament agreed today to abolish the blasphemy provision of the Criminal Code. The Pirate Party’s parliamentarians submitted the proposal in January, which received broad support from all other political parties in Parliament and the matter was unanimously supported by the committee examining the proposal. Icelanders have now taken an important step in guaranteeing human rights and joined other nations which respect freedom of speech and expression.

There was also extensive support for the bill among the various organizations consulted by Parliament: in addition to Sidmennt (The Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association), the bishop of Iceland, the Icelandic priesthood, the Association of Publishers, PEN Iceland, IMMI (The International Modern Media Institute) an Icelandic based international organization of information and freedom of expression and an atheist group called Vantrú.

The bill is a response to criticism by various international institutions such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe which specifically concluded that countries should abolish the blasphemy provisions in their laws.
Sidmennt has always focused attention on abolishing the blasphemy provision in the Icelandic Criminal Code and has sent parliamentarians memoranda about this in our annual letter to them with suggestions about important issues which promote human rights.

Sidmennt’s comments to Parliament on this bill included the following:

“Often, countries where there is a lack of democracy and freedom are criticized for punishing people for blasphemy even with death sentences. When those countries are criticized, their spokespeople frequently point out, correctly, that similar laws are in force in “Western” democracies. Therefore, it sends a vital message to the rest of the world if Iceland has repealed its blasphemy law. Nations which maintain blasphemy laws with serious consequences should not be able to point to Iceland and say that it has the same kind of law.”

Sidmennt celebrates the fact that parliamentarians from all parties have supported broadening human rights. It should be noted that there are provisions in the Icelandic Criminal Code against hate speech so that protection against that is still guaranteed.

Submitted by Hope Knutsson

News Summary in English about Siðmennt  – June 18, 2015

logo-no-back-faviconSiðmennt is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2015 and has hosted several conferences on ethical topics and will continue to throughout the year. We are organizing a gala cultural event/concert/party in early October.

In February, at our Annual General Meeting, Hope Knútsson, one of the founders of Siðmennt, who had been president of Siðmennt for the past 19 years stepped down from that office and Jóhann Björnsson was elected as president for the next 2 years. Jóhann is a philosopher and teacher and is the educational director of our civil confirmation program. Hope continues as a member of the board and coordinator of the civil confirmation program.

Over the past 2 years, Siðmennt has quadrupled in size and now has close to 1300 members. We are dealing with many more projects than before. We have trained more celebrants this spring to meet the fast-growing demand for secular, alternative ceremonies at all of life’s transition points. We now have 25 celebrants. The number of ceremonies conducted by Siðmennt celebrants has increased by 45% just in the last year.

For the first time in our 25 year history, the board has hired a full time staff member, a managing director, Bjarni Jónsson (who had been vice president for the past 5 years) and he will start working September 1st. At the same time, Siðmennt will open an office for the first time, rented from the Icelandic Human Rights Center and in the same building as several other human rights organizations.

Siðmennt started a Facebook page for its members and there is very active discussion and debate there on a daily basis.

Siðmennt will participate for the first time in August in the annual Reykjavik Gay Pride parade which attracts over 80,000 people, which is 25% of the population of Iceland.

Siðmennt continues to provide secular services, to work for separation of church and state, and to be a strong voice for ethical and Humanist issues in Icelandic society.

Hope Knútsson