Iceland's possible circumcision ban raises religious liberty questions
An Icelandic bill that would bar circumcision for non-medical reasons has given rise to opposition from various religious groups, including Christians as well as Jews and Muslims.
“Protecting the health of children is a legitimate goal of every society, but in this case this concern is instrumentalized, without any scientific basis, to stigmatise certain religious communities. This is extremely worrying,” commented Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who is president of the Catholic Church in the European Union.
Circumcision is a religious ritual in both Judaism and Islam. Jewish boys are circumcised eight days after birth, while Muslim practices vary widely.
The proposed bill states that “Anyone who...causes damage to the body or health of a child or a woman by...removing sexual organs shall be imprisoned for up to 6 years.”
Female genital mutilation has been banned in Iceland since 2005.
The bill was introduced by Silja Dogg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party of Iceland, who said, “We are talking about children's rights, not about freedom of belief. Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe.”
The health risks and benefits of circumcision have been a topic of debate for several years in some European countries, although none have banned the practice outright.
Iceland, which has a population of around 334,000, has a small Muslim population of less than 1,500, , and an even smaller Jewish population of fewer than 250.
Agnes Sigurðardóttir, the Lutheran Bishop of Iceland, has warned that “the danger that arises, if this bill becomes law, is that Judaism and Islam will become criminalised religions. We must avoid all such forms of extremism.”
Yair Melchior, chief rabbi of Denmark, and and Yoav Melchior, rabbi of Oslo, have commented that “There is no country in the world now that bans circumcision. This sets a dangerous precedent that may affect other countries.”
Ahmad Seddeeq, an imam at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland, said that circumcision “is something that touches our religion and I believe that this is... a contravention [of] religious freedom.”