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Church in Iraq Protests Law That Would Force Children to Become Muslims

People hold placards featuring icons during a ceremony marking the return to Iraq from the Vatican of the new patriarch of the Iraq-based Chaldean Church, Louis Sako, on February 7, 2013 at Saint Joseph's Cathedral in the northern Kurdish city of Ainkawa. Louis Sako, who replaced Emmanuel III Delly, will take the official title of Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans. AFP PHOTO SAFIN HAMED

Patriarch promises to take his concerns to international courts if President Masoum does not reject bill

The Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church is calling on Iraq’s president to reject a law that would in effect forcibly convert non-Muslim children to Islam.

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad said that the legislation, part of a new national identity-card law approved by the Iraqi parliament on Oct. 27, would “oblige children under 18 to automatically embrace the Muslim religion,” even if only one parent decides to convert to Islam.

This week Christians and other non-Muslims joined a protest at the Chaldean Church of Saint George in Baghdad, while hundreds of religious minorities protested outside the headquarters of the UN mission in Erbil.

According to, the Baghdad protest, which was convened Tuesday by Patriarch Sako, was attended by several members of the Iraqi Parliament. The Patriarch said that if the Iraqi Parliament does not amend the law, he would take the matter up with international courts that protect human rights, starting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. reported:

The new law forces children from minority faiths to become Muslims if their father converts to Islam or their mother marries a Muslim. A number of religious minorities—including Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans and Bahais—tried without success to modify the proposal so that it read: “minors will keep their current religion until the completion of 18 years of age, then they have the right to choose their religion.”

After the law was passed parliamentarians from minority religions walked out of the chamber in protest.

The Patriarch wrote in a Nov. 6 statement: “We want to assert the principle that the child should keep their religious affiliation, so that he or she can freely decide their faith, according to belief, when they come of age. After all, religion is a matter which concerns only the relationship between God and man, and should not be bound by any obligations. Parliamentarians would do well to worry about an individual become a good citizen, and not meddle in his or her religious faith.”

He pointed out that such a legal provision violates articles of the Iraqi constitution that protect citizens from discrimination. It also contradicts the teachings of the Quran, which says that there can be no pressure in religion, he said.

According to the Assyrian International News Agency, Patriarch Sako met with Iraqi President Fouad Masoum on Nov. 6, and Masoum acknowledged the new law’s constitutional violations. He promised to work to find an acceptable solution.


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