On 17 April in Reykjavík, Iceland, a conference on circumcision was held to discuss a proposal which has been tabled in the Icelandic parliament Althing to ban circumcision of male children for non-medical reasons. If the proposal is made into law parents who have circumcision performed on their child can face up to six years in prison.
The conference organised by the Inter-Faith Forum and the Institute for Religious Studies of the University of Iceland and featured as speakers from Christian, Jewish, Muslim as well as medical and other secular organisations. While the organizers emphasize the positive participation of these various realities of the civil and religious community, they also appreciated the participation of some Icelandic parliamentarians.
In a climate of growing skepticism towards religions, the Reykjavík meeting showed that where the voice and opinion of religious communities is heard and understood, it fosters social cohesion.
In the concrete case discussed in Reykjavík, the seminar made it possible to remember that circumcision has for thousands of years been practiced by religious communities across the faith spectrum; for religious Jews circumcision represents the covenant between God and humans, which is also the case in much of Islam and some Christian traditions, such as the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. It is an integral expression of faith and a sign of God’s covenant with humanity.
While introducing the proposed law, Iceland’s ombudsman for children Salvur Nordal and Dr. Olafur Thor Gunnarsson, member of Althing, appreciated the openness of the discussion and agreed that the diversity of views will have importance for the discussion in Iceland. Dr. Gunnarsson described Iceland’s good record in Human Rights, considering this proposal as another step in that development.
Mr. Yaron Nadbornik, President of the Council of Jewish Communities in Finland, outlined the legal cases where circumcision of boys had been considered as contributing positively to a child’s identity, and therefore an act which should be allowed.
Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior of Denmark said that the similar discussion about banning male circumcision is the first real threat to the very existence of the Danish Jewish community during their 400 years of history. Denmark prides in having protected its Jewish population during the Nazi occupation of the country.
Chief Imam Sayed Razawi from Scotland responded to the ideas proposed by Icelandic politicians, that religions should develop according to the requirements of society, by asking who defines those requirements and how absolute should politically defined criteria be.
“We must foster dialogue between our different views – secular and religious, progressive and traditional, and avoid polarisation of views and misconceptions about each other. We should keep in mind the wholeness of the human being – mind, body and soul – and the global nature of all decisions we take in our particular situations/countries,” CEC General Secretary Fr. Heikki Huttunen said in his intervention at the event.
Referring to article 1,14 and 29 of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, Fr. Huttunen added, “We should not forget that it is a right recognised in the UN convention of the rights of the child to belong and to be educated in the religious tradition of his or her family.”
“This seminar is the sign that we are united in the defence of all these values and that together we will not accept an attack to any religion tradition that would make impossible for a certain religion to live in freedom or any intent that would eventually change human values such as life, family, and liberty,” wrote the Secretary General of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), Mgr Duarte da Cunha in his message to the conference.
Both CEC and CCEE underline that a ban in Iceland on circumcision would outlaw two world religions, Judaism and Islam, in the country. This would be a breach of the freedom of religion or belief, one of the basic human rights. Instead, the Seminar of Reykjavík showed the importance of interreligious dialogue for the defense of certain values such as those linked to the life and dignity of the human person.
After this seminar, the leaderships of CCEE and CEC express the hope that this bill will be reconsidered.