Iceland proposes ban on circumcision

Church leaders say move would criminalize Islam and Judaism

Church leaders in Iceland have voiced objections to a bill before the nation’s parliament that would criminalize the circumcision of boys, saying it would violate religious freedoms by effectively criminalizing Judaism and Islam. The Rt. Rev. Agnes Sigurðardóttir the Bishop of the state Lutheran Church, the Þjóðkirkjan, and the Roman Catholic Missionary Bishop of Reykjavík, the Rt. Rev. Davíð Tencer OFMCap, have urged parliament to reject the bill.

On 2 Feb 2018 MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir introduced a bill with the support of the four left wing parties in the national parliament, the Althing. The Left Green Movement, the Progressive Party, People’s Party and the Pirate Party, who hold 29 of the 63 seats in the Althing and are part of the government’s ruling coalition, have asked the state to impose a six year prison sentence on those circumcising boys, believing circumcision to be a cruel practice on par with female genital mutilation.

The bill would permit medical exceptions but would not permit circumcision for religious purposes.

Last month Bishop Sigurðardóttir released a statement saying the Lutheran Church opposed the proposed law.  “In the bill, two different human rights viewpoints are represented. On the one hand, there is an irreversible intervention of a child’s body, and on the other hand, the right of the child to grow up in the religious and cultural practices of its parents and relations, which can mold its self-image.”

“The danger that arises, if this bill becomes law, is that Judaism and Islam will become criminalised religions, and that individuals who subscribe to these faiths will be banned in this country and unwelcome,” she said. “We must avoid all such forms of extremism.”

In a letter to Iceland’s Catholics, last week Bishop Tencer said that circumcision is not practiced by Catholics for religious purposes. Christians were circumcised (ergo pure) in the heart and not in the flesh. However, circumcision was an essential element in the practice of Islam and Judaism. To ban circumcision would mean banning the free practice of the two faiths, he said.

A new poll from Market and Media Research found only 50 percent of the nation favored introducing the ban. The legislation is currently in committee and has not yet been presented to the Althing for action.

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