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European Churches defend Jews and Muslims against circumcision bans


John Burger - published on 11/28/20

Denmark, Finland and Belgium considering legislation against ritual practice.

At a time when anti-semitism has shown up in more ways and more places in Europe, a number of countries are considering a ban on a practice that has been deeply ingrained in Jewish life for eons.

Denmark’s Parliament is expected to vote soon on a motion to ban circumcision, according to Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs, writing at Religion News Service this week. Finland and Belgium are considering similar legislation, he said. In recent years, legislators and activists in Iceland, Germany and Sweden have attempted to prohibit the practice.

Baker attributes the push for bans, in part, to children’s rights defenders who claim it is an act of disfigurement and mutilation.“In fact, some compare it to female genital mutilation, a barbaric procedure that is banned in most countries,” he writes. 

While medical circumcision of infants is common in America, the practice is much rarer in Europe. But in Jewish and Muslim communities, circumcision is still considered a religious obligation, but western Europeans, who are “strongly secular,” tend to view organized religion with skepticism and even disdain, he explained. 

Baker is also convinced that anti-Muslim animus plays a role in the current anti-circumcision campaign. “The politicians leading the charge in the Finnish Parliament are members of a right-wing, nationalist party well-known for attacking Muslims but with little interest in children’s rights,” he writes. 

Churches in Europe have spoken out against the proposals. Two years ago, when Iceland was considering such legislation, the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) issued a statement saying the move “would not only amount to an infringement of the fundamental human right of Freedom of Religion or Belief, but would also be perceived as a signal that people with a Jewish or Muslim background are no longer welcome to Iceland.”

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, President of the CCEE, said that “the Catholic Church is particularly committed to defending the child’s right, which also includes the right — the duty of the family to educate their children according to their own religious convictions. This initiative is against religious freedom and the principles of democracy proper to a civil society.” 

Last year, The Church of Sweden voiced support for Jewish and Muslim communities in their fight against the proposed circumcision ban. 

Both Sweden and Germany adopted compromise legislation that imposed some conditions regulating the procedure and provided additional medical oversight, while still permitting a circumcision to take place in a synagogue or family home, Baker said.

Religious Freedom
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