Catholic bishops in Iceland condemned legislation that could mean six years in prison for Jewish and Muslim parents for acting in accord with their respective faiths to seek ritual circumcision for their sons. “If this bill goes through, it would mean regular persecution of Jewish people,” said Rev. Jakob Rolland, chancellor of the Roman Catholic diocese of Reykjavik, according to Catholic News Service. “That brings us back to 1933, when Hitler took power in Germany. And we know how it ended.” Iceland is an ally of the United States and a member of NATO

In February, Bill 183 “Human Rights of Children”  was introduced in Iceland’s parliament and would ban all circumcision of males under the age of 18 when the procedure is not medically indicated. Jews, Catholics, and Muslims each represent tiny minorities in Iceland and thus have little political leverage. The bill has been discussed in one session already, and  must be discussed in parliament in three sessions before a final vote. 

Religious leaders from Iceland and Europe attended an interfaith conference on April 17 in Reykavik at the University of Iceland to discuss the legislation and make their concerns public. 

In a statement, Monsignor Duarte da Cunha condemned the legislation as an assault on religious freedom. Da Cunha said in the statement, “It is unacceptable that something that belongs to a religious tradition should be prohibited just for ideological reasons.”  As general secretary of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, da Cunha gave assurances of support from Catholics in Europe for Jews and Muslims to exercise their right to the free practice of their religion. 

According to the statement, da Cunha declared, “If the proposal were made into law, it would not only be an infringement of the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief, but would also be perceived as a signal that people with Jewish or Muslim backgrounds are no longer welcome to Iceland.” 

Rev. Rolland said, according to Catholic News Service, that the measure appears to be gaining popular support. “This bill means more or less that Jewish people are banned from this country if they want to practice their religion,” he said. Icelandic politicians have called on the various religions to change their teachings to accommodate the law.

“We see this as a question of human rights. No person should be subject to unnecessary operations without their consent,” said Dr. Olafur Thor Gunnarsson, a member of a feminist party in parliament who is sponsoring the bill. "Religions that continue to adapt to the societies in which they're practiced, will remain strong and continue to be driving forces for the well being of society,” Gunnarsson said. 

Salvor Nordal, the children’s Ombudsman of Iceland, read a statement saying: "We would like to see a respectful dialogue between all involved parties on how to best ensure that boys will be able to exert their influence on the issue of circumcision... We request that our governments to take necessary measures to ensure that boys are given the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not they want to be circumcised."

Attending the conference was Rabbi Moche Lewin, who serves as vice president of the European Conference of Rabbis. After quoting Biblical prescriptions for male circumcision as necessary for Jewish identity, Rabbi Lewin said that the bill would mean a “break with the history of the Jewish people.” He said that circumcision is “innately inseparable” from the identity of a Jewish boy, and that the bill sends a message that “Jew has no future in Europe.”

Other speakers emphasized that non-religious circumcision is practiced among in the US and United Kingdom on a majority of boys for hygenice purposes, and that the rates of harm to children are infinitely small.

The moderator of the conference was Margrét Steinarsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Human Rights Centre. The Conference of European Churches organized the session.

List of speakers:

Dr. Ólafur Þór Gunnarsson MD, Member of the Parliament of Iceland, Co-Sponsor of the bill on bann of circumcision
Salvör Nordal, Children’s Ombudsman of Iceland
Rabbi Moche Lewin, Vice-President of the European Conference of Rabbis (on behalf of Chief Rabbi Albert Guigui from the World Jewish Congress)
Mr. Yaron Nadbornik, President of the Council of Jewish Congregations in Finland, representing the Nordic Jewish Communities’ Council of Presidents
Rabbi Ute Steyer, representing the Jewish Community of Sweden
Mr. Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
Adam Anbari, representing the Islamic Foundation of Iceland
Imam Ahmad Seddeeq, representing the Islamic Cultural Center of Iceland
Chief Imam Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, representing the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society
Mr. Atik Ali, President of the Islam Congregation of Finland, representing Finland’s Muslim Network
Dr. Baldur Tumi Baldursson, Chief Medical Doctor in skin and venereal desease at the National Hospital, Reykjavík
Ty B. Ericksson, MD FACOG FPMRS Obstetrician/Gynecologist Pelvic Reconstructive Surgeon. USA
Prof. Dr. Bernard Lobel, Urologist, former Chief Doctor at the hospital of Rennes
Fr. Heikki Huttunen, General Secretary of CEC (Conference of European Churches)
Dr. Elizabeta Kitanovic, Human Rights Executive Secretary of CEC
Mgr. Duarte da Cunha, General Secretary of CCEE (Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe)

(Ed. note: This article corrects an earlier version)



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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