Statement of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders
on the Criminalisation of Circumcision in European Countries
A recent provincial court ruling in Cologne, Germany, has brought to international attention the issue of the legality of the religious ritual of circumcision of boys. The German Parliament has passed a resolution promising to develop legislation clarifying the legal status of circumcision, while officials in other countries, including Switzerland and Austria, are actively grappling with the same issue.
The Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders wishes to offer its voice as legislative bodies ponder their responsibilities regarding this matter.
While we recognize that opposition to circumcision expresses a view that seeks to safeguard the rights of children, and while we, as religious leaders informed by the values of our traditions, share in these concerns, we nevertheless wish to affirm the following points:
1. Circumcision is a religious obligation that is central to the practices of multiple faith communities, including Jewish, Muslim, and Orthodox Christian. For some of these traditions its significance touches the core of identity. Because it is a major marker of religious identity, Muslims and Jews have no choice with regard to the practice of the circumcision of boys. Prohibition of the practice of circumcision echoes the discriminatory legislation of former centuries; it is inappropriate to our more enlightened age in which religious diversity is respected.
2. One of the unintentional consequences of anti-circumcision legislation is increasing polarization within society, alienating faith communities rather than integrating them in society.
3. Recognizing the value of these faith communities to the nations and cultures in which they live and work, as well as to the global community, legislative bodies should do their best to minimize points of confrontation.
4. Ill-advised public policy on religious practice runs the risk of sowing seeds for future, even more restrictive policies on religion.
5. We wish to recall the centrality of religious freedom as a core human right. Limiting religious freedom in all but the most extreme cases runs contrary to deep currents that provide the foundations for the modern state and society.
6. In considering human rights and children’s rights, we must take a holistic approach to the wellbeing of society, balancing individual and communal dimensions. We affirm that religious traditions have rich resources of wisdom for balancing these dimensions. Religious communities should be permitted to develop approaches appropriate to their communities, without interference from civil bodies, except in extreme circumstances. As religious communities define their sense of wellbeing through a balance of material and spiritual concerns, civil authorities should not tamper with religious practice, except when the most extreme violation of physical wellbeing is involved.
We therefore urge the German Parliament and other judicial, legislative, and executive authorities considering this issue, to be mindful of historical precedent and broader social challenges and to apply a concern for the common good, DRAWING ON THE WISDOM OF RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS BY WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP WITH religious communities, rather than alienating them and thereby undermining the healthy social foundations for today’s society.