Iceland on Child Circumcision: They’re Against It


After Locking Up 26 Crooked Bankers and Refusing to “Rescue” the Debts They Incurred, The Icelanders Are Now Considering Banning Child Circumcision

This “row over religious freedom” article in last Sunday’s Guardian was an eye opener:

Iceland law to outlaw male circumcision sparks row over religious freedom

Iceland is poised to become the first European country to outlaw male circumcision amid signs that the ritual common to both Judaism and Islam may be a new battleground over religious freedom.

A bill currently before the Icelandic parliament proposes a penalty of up to six years in prison for anyone carrying out a circumcision other than for medical reasons. Critics say the move, which has sparked alarm among religious leaders across Europe, would make life for Jews and Muslims in Iceland unsustainable.

What do the experts say?

Public health authors Morten Frisch and  Brian D. Earp write in the abstract of their article published in Global Public Health on April 23, 2016:

Although we set aside the burgeoning bioethical debate surrounding the moral permissibility of performing non-therapeutic circumcisions on healthy minors, we argue that, from a scientific and medical perspective, current evidence suggests that such circumcision is not an appropriate public health measure for developed countries such as the United States.

An undated article in My Jewish says this:

Many American parents opt to circumcise their sons because of the perceived health benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2012 stated that the health benefits outweigh the risks of undergoing circumcision. Circumcision has been linked to lower rates of HIV, penile cancer and urinary tract infections.

We find this interesting and relevant quote on the Icelandic Zuist church website:

Zuists fully support freedom of religion, and from religion, for everyone.

The infant-circumcision controversy, it seems, is served.

Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir
Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, the Icelandic Progressive Party MP who submitted the proposal to ban infant circumcision

Is child circumcision already illegal in Iceland?

From the Iceland Monitor (20 Feb. 2018): Brynjar Níelsson, high court lawyer and MP for the Independence Party, points out on his Facebook page today that circumcision of boys is already punishable by law in Iceland. This comes in wake of the religious stir caused by a bill put forward by MP Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir of the Progressive Party recently to ban circumcision of boys. Muslim, Jewish and even the Catholic church have condemned the bill. Níelsson spoke to and says he’s not one for putting bans on everything. “There have been good arguments both for and against the bill,” he says. However, he says, in Icelandic law calls for bodily harm to be punishable and that he does not think circumcision is excluded.

Just who do the Icelanders think they are?

They think they’re a small, progressive sovereign nation located in the North Atlantic, and they’re right.

Don’t they risk angering a lot of deeply religious people?

Yes, but their government–backed by the majority of the population–feels that its job is to protect and potentiate the people of all religions before considering the sensibilities or ideologies of one or another religious community–minorities or majorities. Contrary to what some people might suspect, Iceland is in no way an anti-religious country.

Quite the contrary. Icelandic law requires that all their citizens make annual donations to the religious group of their choice. There are 41 denominations from which to choose. The most numerous group is the Christians, belonging mainly to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the state church, with nearly a quarter of a million members. Then come some 3,500 Norse Pagans (see below). The Zuists, a fast-growing modern pagan religious movement based on ancient Sumerian texts, numbers around 3,000 members. The popularity of Zuism seems to be enhanced by the fact that it helps Icelanders evade the religious tax. (Data from the American Wow Air in-flight magazine.)

Icelandic Muslims number about 1,500. There are only about 250 Jews, perhaps so few due to the travel warning issued by the Simon Weisenthal Center in 2015 for Jews wishing to visit the Icelandic capital after Reykjavik municipality voted in favor of a boycott of Israeli goods “as long as the occupation of Palestinian territories continues,” this from the Times of Israel.

The Norse Pagan religion, called Ásatrú, re-founded on the first day of summer in 1972, has been quite successful in recovering local traditions. This clip from the Wikipedia article on the Norse Pagans’ traditional religion might inspire you not to take Ásatrú lightly:

Old Norse religion was polytheistic, entailing a belief in various gods and goddesses. Norse mythology divided these deities into two groups, the Æsir and the Vanir, who engaged in an ancient war until realizing that they were equally powerful. Among the most widespread deities were the gods Oðinn and Thor. This world was inhabited also by various other mythological races, including giants, dwarfs, elves, and land-spirits. Norse cosmology revolved around a world tree known as Yggdrasil, with various realms existing alongside that of humans, named Midgard.

This website features a fascinating piece on religion in Iceland, the subtitle of which is “…it manages to be one of the most Christian countries in the world – and also one of the least Christian countries in the world.” The gist of the article is that, though there is a state religion, all other religions are protected under the law, and the country’s hundreds of historic churches are still revered, Icelanders still don’t go to church much, except for the pop concerts held in Reykjavik’s Hallgrímskirkja  Evangelical Lutheran parish church.

They can’t be serious. Circumcision is a basic tenet of several world religions.

They are serious. And, as we have shown, it’s not that they’re anti-religions. It’s just that they prioritize public health and child protection over theological issues. They contend that male genital mutilation is a matter for consenting adults, not children.

Is the Icelandic point of view on infant circumcision likely to be adopted in other European countries?

We shall see. In the meantime enjoy the brouhaha.

Read more rantings in my ebook, The Turncoat Chronicles.
Thanks for commenting and sharing

Author: Michael Booth

Michael Booth, the creator of, is a US-born publicist, author and online publisher who has lived in a Spanish village in the foothills of Sierra Nevada for the past five decades. Though better known abroad for his fine-art printmaking sites and online magazine, Booth's day job for the past decade and a half, until recently, was his communications agency, dedicated principally to designing and implementing Internet strategies for Spanish companies and institutions. It took him a long time to get out of publicity and into writing but it was worth the wait.

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