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Right to perform religious rituals debated at the EP

The European Parliament, in Brussels, has hosted, on Tuesday, 10 April 2018, a conference on religious rituals and fundamental rights. The event was co-organised by the EPP Group on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue and the European Jewish Community Centre (EJCC). The starting point was the bill of law recently submitted by 7 Irish MPs that criminalises children’s circumcision, with up to six years in prison as a punishment.

Opening the conference, Jan Olbrycht, MEP and co-chairman of the EPP WG on Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, emphasised that freedom of religion, as a fundamental right, is a central pillar of our society and is the origin of manifold cultures as we know them today, throughout Europe and beyond. Moreover, freedom of religion necessarily has to include the freedom to perform religious rituals, which are the core of one's religious life. Our goal, Olbrycht added, should not be to merely find a compromise, but to get to know and understand each other in the various specificities of our ways of life, be them religious or not.

Rabbi Avi Tawil, director of EJCC, underscored the wider significance of this debate, beyond the Jewish and Muslim communities in Ireland, which are directly affected by the Irish draft of legislation.

The discussion on outlawing circumcision is not a new one in Europe, as Prof. Thomas Gergely, from the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, made it clear. Similar debates took place in past years in Denmark and Germany. He strongly criticised the draft bill of law, arguing that its motivation indicates a very superficial knowledge of current practices when it comes to circumcision. The proposal to postpone this intervention until the children could consent to it can hardly be sustained, prof. Gergely added; the intervention would be medically more complex at teenage then in the first weeks of life. Moreover, building further on the logic of such prohibition, one could also argue for the postponement of vaccination or any other medical treatment that would induce pain.

Rev. Olivier Poquillon, COMECE General Secretary insisted that what is at stake is a fundamental human right, according to established international legislation, and that contesting such a right could prove to be a rather risky endeavour, opening the way for a very dangerous path of contesting the entire establishment.

In her turn, Elizabeta Kitanovic, Executive Secretary for Human Rights of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), suggested that the way out of this controversy is to find the right ballance between religious freedom, parental rights, human dignity and the phisical integrity of the children.

The Irish case recently also drew the attention of CEC and of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), which, in a joint statement from mid-March deplore the submission of the legislative proposal in the Icelandic parliament. Equally emphasising the human rights approach endorsed by the EP conference, the statement goes on to say that "circumcision has for thousands of years been practised by religious communities across the faith spectrum; it is a fundamental feature of religious practise in Judaism, Islam and some Christian traditions, such as the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox churches. Circumcision is not an optional ceremony, but at the very core of religious practice. It is with this particular religious rite that male children are welcomed to their religion, providing them a sign of God’s covenant with humanity. For these communities, it is an integral expression of faith".

Photos' source: EPP website

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