New Iraq law to force Christian children to embrace Islam

IRAQ’S beleaguered Christian community is opposing a new law forcing children from minority faiths to become Muslims if their father converts to Islam or their mother marries a Muslim. In a statement sent to Aid to the Church in Need, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako described the new law as “unacceptable”. 

The head of the Chaldean Church wrote: 

“The vote of the deputies of the Iraqis, which was held October 27th, 2015, in favour of the National Charter has generated great resentment among Christians and other non-Muslim minorities. “It obliges children under 18 to automatically embrace the Muslim religion, if even only one parent decides to convert to Islam (Art. 26.2). 

“Leaving aside the fact that a parent betrays his bond with his children, it is unacceptable that this implies that the second party is deprived of the opportunity to fulfil the promise made and keep their religious faith.” 

A number of religious minorities – including Christians, Yazidis, Mandeans and Bahais – tried without success to modify the proposal so that it read: “minors will keep their current religion until the completion of 18 years of age, then they have the right to choose their religion”. 

After the law was passed parliamentarians from minority religions walked out of the chamber in protest. Patriarch Sako wrote: “[W]e want to assert the principle that the child should keep their religious affiliation, so that he or she can freely decide their faith, according to belief, when they come of age. 

“After all, religion is a matter, which concerns only the relationship between God and man, and should not be bound by any obligations. “Parliamentarians would do well to worry about an individual become a good citizen, and not meddle in his or her religious faith.” 

The law, which is part of the new National Card legislation, is said to conflict with parts of the current Iraqi constitution. According to the Assyrian International News Agency, when Patriarch Sako met with President Fouad Masoum on 6th November Mr Masoum acknowledged the new law’s constitutional violations and promised to work to find an acceptable solution. 

In his statement Patraiarch Sako pointed out where the new legislation contradicts the constitution. The head of the Chaldean Church wrote: “All of this also tramples over a provision of the Iraqi Constitution, as Article 3 provides that: ‘Iraq is a nation made up of different ethnic groups, religions and denominations’ 

“And again, Article 37, paragraph 2: ‘The country guarantees the protection of the individual against any doctrinal, political or religious coercion’. “Finally, Article 42: ‘Every individual has freedom of thought, conscience and ideology.’ “And as we are part of the international community, this law is contrary to human rights standards and international treaties.” 

The Chaldean Patriarch also expressed his gratitude to all the groups supporting Christians and other religious minorities in their opposition to the new law. He wrote: “We thank our Muslim brothers, NGOs and human rights delegations in Iraq, for their strong support as we go forward and protest against this discriminatory law and we want to renew our opposition to this homogeneous Charter.” 

by John Newton

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