Religious Groups Outraged Over Iceland’s Plan to Ban Circumcision for Non-Medical Reasons

I visited Iceland earlier this month where I learned about their plan to ban circumcision for non-medical reasons. I thought it was a great idea. But religious groups are now expressing outrage over the proposal.

Iceland banned female genital mutilation in 2005, but it has no laws on the books about the practice of male circumcision because it isn’t a common enough practice there (mostly due to the tiny Jewish and Muslim populations). Now, however, they are poised to become the first nation to ban cutting the foreskin of baby boys unless there’s evidence it will benefit them medically.

In the Icelandic bill, the only exception for circumcising a boy would be precisely to protect a child’s health. In all other circumstances, however, the practice is a clear violation of human rights against children who are too young to have a say in this. When it comes to religious reasons, then, the practice would be strictly banned and punished with up to six years of prison for personal assault.

All of this makes sense when you realize Iceland’s culture is incredibly different from what we’re used to in the United States. It’s less religious, for one thing, and church/state separation is taken very seriously. When religion is out of the picture, the reasons for male circumcision tend to go out the window.

The new measure also brings equality between baby girls and baby boys, who need to have their bodily autonomy protected, according to the politician who proposed the measure.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a lawmaker from the center-right Progressive Party, said she proposed the measure after realizing the country’s ban on female genital mutilation had no equivalent to prevent male circumcision.

Iceland outlawed female genital mutilation in 2005, in line with other nations, to prevent procedures that intentionally alter or injure female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

“We are talking about children’s rights, not about freedom of belief,” she said when she introduced the bill in early February. “Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe.”

Are there any reasons to keep circumcision legal? Not if we’re using facts and logic, but religious groups aren’t exactly known for that. The bishop of Iceland, for instance, said the ban could “criminalize” Judaism and Islam if enacted.

While the Bishop offered praise for Iceland having banned the circumcision of girls in 2005, she believes Parliament needs to “provide room to discuss this sensitive matter”, especially with regards to different cultures.

“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,” the Bishop says. “We must avoid all such forms of extremism.”

I agree that all forms of extremism are bad, but there are a lot of things in the Torah, the Bible, and the Qur’an that we outlaw today. You can’t perform human sacrifice, for example, and that’s at the very core of Christianity.

The Nordic Jewish Communities also said the bill was an “attack on Judaism in a way that concerns Jews all over the world,” and Imam Ahmad Seddeeq at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Iceland said routine male circumcision is “part of our faith.”

“It’s… part of our faith,” he said.” It’s something that touches our religion and I believe that this is… a contravention [of] religious freedom.

It might be a part of the Muslim and Jewish faiths, but that doesn’t make it good for everyone. It’s telling that those religious leaders rely on the “religious freedom” argument instead of listing off the medical benefits of the procedure. The point is: Religion isn’t a good enough reason to mutilate anyone’s body. “We’re Jewish” wouldn’t be an acceptable excuse if a child were being physically abused, and it shouldn’t be acceptable in this situation either.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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