Council of Europe committed to religious freedom, its leader writes to Peres

JERUSALEM (JTA) — There is a clear difference between female genital mutilation and male circumcision for religious reasons, the head of the Council of Europe wrote to Israeli President Shimon Peres.

in a letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, sent the letter dated Oct. 8 in response to a letter from Peres in which the Israeli president called on the council to reconsider a resolution condemning male ritual circumcision, saying it would impede religious freedom.

“Nothing in the body of our legally binding standards would lead us to put on equal footing the issue of female genital mutilation and the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons,” Jagland wrote to Peres, saying he understood the negative reaction of people from the Jewish and Muslim community to the resolution.

“I can assure you of the Council of Europe’s continued and unequivocal commitment to tolerance and freedom of religion,” Jagland said.

The resolution, which was passed overwhelmingly on Oct. 1 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, calls male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children” and puts it in the same class as female genital mutilation. The resolution is non-binding and is not a direct threat to ritual circumcision.

It calls on member states 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.”

Among the practices named are female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersexual children, corporal punishment and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.

The ritual circumcision of boys younger than 18 has come under attack increasingly in Scandinavia and German-speaking European countries both by left-wing secularists and right-wingers who fear the influence of immigration from Muslim countries.

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