Proposed circumcision ban in Iceland a religious persecution, says bishop

A Catholic bishop in Iceland is speaking up against a proposed ban on circumcision. Bishop David Tencer from Reykjavik expressed his views during an interview about the bill that lawmakers lodged and said it could be tantamount to religious persecution.

(REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)A boy cries during circumcision in this file photo from September 26, 2008. Circumcision is compulsory for Muslim boys under the Sharia law (Islamic Law).

Speaking with the country's public broadcaster, RUV, the head of Iceland's Catholic diocese expressed that the intention of the bill could be misdirected as "an attempt to persecute individuals for their religion." Previously, Tencer also expressed solidarity with Jews and Muslims who believe in the practice of circumcision.

"Jesus Himself was circumcised, as were His apostles," the bishop wrote in his letter to other religious leaders. "We fully support Muslims and Jews in their fight to freely express their faith."

There are over a thousand Muslims and fewer than 250 Jews in a small country like Iceland. Its lawmakers believe, however, that like female genital mutilation that has been prohibited in the country since 2005, circumcision should also be banned.

Silja Dogg Gunnarsdóttir from the Progressive Party proposed the bill as part of children's health rights.She clarified that this was not about religious beliefs but was instead a health issue.

"Everyone has the right to believe in what they want, but the rights of children come above the right to believe," Gunnarsdóttir said.

Religious leaders, however, said that if the bill becomes a law, it would make criminals out of those who believe in the practice. Those found doing circumcisions could land six years in prison, as stipulated in the bill.

Rabbi Yair Melchior also contended that a circumcision ban does not exist in any country but Iceland politicians could set a precedent. Jewish spokesperson Avi Mayer stated that circumcision was actually encouraged to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Iceland lawmakers are expected to vote on the bill before June. They began deliberations last February.