Council of Europe Drops Anti-circumcision Campaign

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A Jewish baby at his circumcision. Credit: AP

The Council of Europe has canceled efforts to get male circumcision banned and now accepts the custom as part of the Continent’s religious freedom.

The Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, representing the 47 member states, voted by a large majority Thursday to accept circumcision — a religious obligation for both Muslims and Jews.

The assembly recommends allowing the procedure if it is performed by a trained expert under appropriate medical and sanitary conditions — and after parents have been informed of the risks.

Parents will also be asked to consider the good of the child. “The child’s interest must be considered the first priority,” the assembly said. The Council of Europe acts to promote human rights and the rule of law, but it has no legal authority and is separate from the European Union.

The decision was part of a larger debate on religious freedom in which the assembly said religious communities should be able to practice their faiths publicly and freely.

According to the assembly, “certain religious practices remained controversial within national communities and ... the wearing of full-face veils, circumcision of young boys and ritual slaughter were divisive issues.”

Two years ago, the assembly adopted a resolution on “Children’s right to physical integrity” in which it called on member states to place restrictions on circumcision.

The original resolution also called on member states to “initiate a public debate, including intercultural and interreligious dialogue, aimed at reaching a large consensus on the rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity according to human rights standards.”

It urged them to “adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted.”

In addition to circumcision for religious reasons, the resolution covered female genital mutilation, corporal punishment, and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.

Over the past two years many Knesset members, including Speaker Yuli Edelstein, have striven to change the circumcision decision. Edelstein said he was pleased that the battle “of many Knesset members, both Jewish and Muslim ... has borne fruit” — in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry, rabbis and Jewish communities.  

”It was clear from the beginning the Council of Europe’s recommendation was outrageous, irrational and blatantly hurt the freedom of religion of many,” Edelstein said in a statement. ”I hope that in the future we will not be forced to fight for elementary rights such as circumcision.”

MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) addressed the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

“This is a victory for common sense,” he said. “The dispute on circumcision is legitimate, but those who oppose the ancient tradition should wage their war via education not by trying to force their opinions by creating new legislation.

The assembly called on states “to seek reasonable accommodations for controversial religious practices, in particular in the workplace, the aim being to guarantee effective equality in the right to freedom of religion.”

It added that “legislation prohibiting ritual slaughter is not really necessary, or the most effective way of ensuring the protection of animals.” 

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