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Bishops engage in debate about circumcision ban

Prohibiting circumcision would be a blow to the freedom of religion in Denmark, say bishops

From the Synagogue in Copenhagen. Photo: Jewish Community in Denmark, mosaiske.dk. 

There has been an ongoing debate about circumcision and a possible ban of the practice in the danish parliament and in public discussions. A large majority of Danes are against circumcision and some surveys suggest that 86% of the population want a ban against the circumcision of boys under the age of 18. A broad spectrum of Danish parties (Socialistisk Folkeparti, Enhedslisten, Nye Borgerlige, Alternativet, Liberal Alliance and Dansk Folkeparti) are advocating a ban on the ritual circumcision of boys.

The bishops took part in this debate and most of them, according to an article by Kristeligt Dagblad, 8 out of 10 bishops, have criticized the effort to prohibit the ritual. It is not common for the bishops to engage almost unanimously in a controversial debate such as this one. The overall picture is that the bishops see a possible ban of circumcision as a big mistake and a blow to the freedom of religion in Danish society. Some of them also see it as a criminalization of Judaism in Denmark. The head of the Jewish community in Denmark also said, that a possible ban would be the worst threat to the country’s Jews since World War II.

The bishop of Haderslev Marianne Christiansen said the following: “A ban would be a big mistake and blow to the freedom of religion and danish culture. Many Danes have maybe forgotten, in this time of secularization, that you cannot be a Jew without being circumcised.”                                        

The Bishop of Copenhagen Peter Skov Jakobsen said the following: “If you ask me if I support circumcision my answer is no. The church has not supported circumcision for 2000 years. But I will not question my Jewish or Muslim neighbor’s access to this custom. This is about spiritual and intellectual freedom.” The bishop of Lolland-Falster Marianne Gaarden would not take a stand on this issue until we have a professional assessment from the health authorities.

After several weeks of debate the largest two parties in the Danish parliament, Venstre and the Social Democrats, arrived at the conclusion that they would not support a ban. Therefore, it was not possible to reach a majority to the proposition made by the MP Simon Emil Ammitzbøll-Bille. The PM Mette Frederiksen explained that Denmark made a pledge to its Jewish community after WWII to be fully inclusive to them and that banning the ritual circumcision of boys would break that promise: “Many Jews don’t find it compatible to live in a country where circumcision is banned and I simply don’t think we can make a decision with which we don’t live up to our promise – that the Jews will remain part of Denmark.”