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A mohel arranges for the circumcision ceremony tzahiV/Getty Images

Will Circumcision Survive in the West?

A proposed law to ban ritual circumcision in Iceland has unsurprisingly been met with dismay in Muslim and Jewish communities around the world. This is not the first time a Western country has considered enforcing secular norms at the expense of religious freedom, an approach that imperils the entire human rights project.

WASHINGTON, DC – A bill to ban non-medical circumcision in Iceland has predictably provoked outrage from Jews and Muslims. They have every reason to be concerned: There have also been calls to outlaw ritual circumcision in the Netherlands and Scandinavia; doctors in the United Kingdom are under pressure to support a ban as well; and few have forgotten that the practice’s legality was challenged in Germany in 2012.

Circumcision has increasingly come under fire in Europe, because the definition of human rights has expanded to include children’s bodily integrity, while the definition of religious freedom has narrowed to include primarily worship and association. But if this emerging hierarchy of rights isn’t managed carefully, the legitimacy of the entire human-rights project could be imperiled.

According to Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, the Progressive Party parliamentarian who introduced the Icelandic bill, the central issue is “children’s rights, not … freedom of belief.” Gunnarsdóttir accepts that “everyone has the right to believe in what they want,” but she insists that, “the rights of children come above the right to believe.”

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