Jews, Muslims slam German circumcision ruling as assault on religion
A German court has sparked a furor by ruling that religious-based circumcisions are not in a child's best interests.
June 27th, 2012
02:15 PM ET

Jews, Muslims slam German circumcision ruling as assault on religion

Jews and Muslims are joining forces in outrage over a German court's decision that could prohibit parents from having their children circumcised for religious reasons. The court deemed the oft-religious procedure an act of "bodily harm" to children, according to German media reports.

The Tuesday ruling says doctors who perform the procedure for religious reasons could be charged with committing bodily injury, sparking a debate that pits parents' religious freedom against a child's right to self-determination. The court essentially ruled that circumcision is not in a child's best interests, according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel.

"The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision," the court said. "This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."

While the ruling is expected to influence other courts, it is not legally binding, Der Spiegel noted.

The procedure, which is relatively common in the United States (roughly six in 10 newborn boys are circumcised), is not so prevalent in Europe. In Germany, only 11% of boys are circumcised, according to 2007 figures. However, many of Germany's 4 million Muslims and its 100,000 Jews consider circumcision a religious rite.

The case began in Cologne in 2010 after a doctor performed a circumcision on a 4-year-old Muslim boy. His parents took him to a hospital two days later because he was bleeding heavily, the Medical Daily website reported. When prosecutors learned of the emergency room visit, they brought criminal charges against the doctor.

A court initially tossed out the charges, saying the parents had consented to the procedure, which constituted a "traditional ritual belonging to the Muslim community," according to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. One reason the court cited for defending the procedure was that a child who wasn't circumcised risked being ostracized by his peers, Der Spiegel said.

Prosecutors appealed, and a higher court ruled that circumcisions should be performed only for medical reasons. The court said its decision was for the "good of the child, who would be able to decide for himself which religious community he or she would belong to," Haaretz reported.

While denouncing the procedure, the higher court gave the doctor a pass, acquitting him because he acted in good faith and could reasonably argue he didn't realize he was committing a crime because of Germany's imprecise laws on circumcision, the paper said.

While German doctors "have been operating in a legal gray area," according to Der Spiegel, they have until now been able to cite the law's vagueness in asserting the legality of circumcision. Tuesday's court ruling would deny doctors that out, the newspaper reported.

Within hours of the decision, Jews and Muslims - not just in Germany but from all over the world - banded together to protest what they saw as an assault on their religious freedom.

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League said circumcising newborn males was a "core religious rite of Judaism" and echoed a call by Germany's Central Council of Jews demanding the Bundestag pass legislation protecting the religious practice.

"The decision by a district court in Cologne, Germany, to deem non-medical circumcision a crime places an intolerable burden on the free exercise of religion by Jews and also by Muslims who practice male circumcision as part of their religious faith," Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, said in a statement.

While the law did not appear anti-Semitic in its intent, Foxman continued, the ultimate message was clear: "Jews are not welcome."

"Germany has dedicated itself to re-building Jewish life, and the consequences of a ban on circumcision would be a devastating blow to the future of the Jewish community," Foxman wrote.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin told Israel Radio that he also felt Germany's parliament should handle the issue legislatively, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“The parliament in Berlin understands the ramifications of the ruling,” Rivlin said. “Not allowing a person to follow his religion opposes every constitution.”

Ali Demir, chairman of the Islamic Religious Community, called circumcision a harmless and "highly symbolic" procedure that had spanned thousands of years. Banning it could have an adverse on Muslims integrating into German society, he told Der Spiegel.

Added Aiman Mayzek of the Central Council of Muslims: "Religious freedom is very important in our constitution and cannot become the pawn of a one-dimensional ruling that also further strengthens existing prejudices and clichés about this issue."

At least one rabbi concurred that education was key to helping people understand the importance of circumcision to Jewish and Islamic cultures.

A "public relations campaign in cooperation with the Muslim community will do away with misunderstandings and will prevent both intentional and unintentional harm to freedom of religion in Europe," Rabbi Menachem Margolin of the Brussels, Belgium-based Rabbinical Center of Europe told Haaretz.

Circumcision entails removing some or all of the foreskin covering the penis. It's most commonly performed on newborn males for religious, personal hygiene or, in some case, preventative health care reasons, according to Medical Daily. The procedure becomes markedly more complicated when performed on older children or adults.

Der Spiegel reported that medical experts advising the Cologne court declared there is no "need in Central Europe to perform circumcisions as part of preventative health care," but the World Health organization begs to differ.

While there are short-term risks to circumcision - bleeding, hematoma and sepsis, among them - there is "substantial evidence" the procedure can help protect against urinary tract infections, syphilis, HIV and chancroid and invasive penile cancer. Male circumcision also increases sexual pleasure for men and women, WHO reports. (report PDF)

Roughly 30% of men in the world have undergone the procedure, and about two in three of those are Muslim. The procedure is routinely performed in Israel, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and much of the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa, according to the organization.

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Filed under: Courts • Crime • Germany • Health • Islam • Israel • Lawsuit • New York • Religion • World
soundoff (566 Responses)
  1. banasy©

    I see this as primarily a malpractice suit, and nothing else.
    The German court overstepped it boundaries, IMHO.

    June 27, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe"

    This is just another government that thinks they have an invite into your pants.
    As far as they have determined, by my last name, the Nazis didn't do a good enough job on my family. For that I am sorry. 🙂

    June 27, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      @Jeff Frank:
      WHY would cnn delete my reply to you that I am glad the Nazis were inept when it came to obliterating our families?
      No matter.
      They didn't get us all, we are: TA DA!

      June 27, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dekkar

    I'm a dad, and I'll let my boys decide if they want to keep their foreskin once they're teenagers. It's their body. I have no right to permanently change it.

    June 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rascal Rabble

      your are a dummie...if yah gonna do it it should be done when they are newborn babies...

      June 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marek

      Dekkar, thank you. Why can't all people have the common sense that you have?

      June 28, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
    • rrutherford


      June 28, 2012 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
    • TomSimon

      Yeah for you!!!!! I wish you had been my dad. Your sons are lucky to have you!

      June 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mr Dalloway

    And did the parents ask the boy? If a country wants to outlaw certain practices it is their prerogative to do so. If people don't like they can either not come to or leave said country if religion takes priority over all else. It is well known that we (America) have certain restrictions as well.

    June 27, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      They'll be outlawing much more than a few practices around the globe... religion will be outlawed it self.
      Only those who value Gods word above their own life will defy Governments and continue to practicing.

      June 27, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©™

    I agree with the German court that it should be a child's decision to make when he is old enough.

    June 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eliott C. McLaughlin

      One thing that struck me about the ruling is that it didn't appear to take into account that the procedure is markedly more complicated as the child gets older. Should the court consider this, or is it irrelevant? What does everyone think?

      June 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      Joey, I would agree with you in that you do not practice any religion. Health reasons would be the only concern for those of no religious association.

      June 27, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      I don't think anyone would choose circ- for himself as an adult or teen, JIF.

      June 27, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Philip

    All health reasons aside, I agree with you folks.

    June 27, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Prophet of Doom

    "Woa be unto you heathen who worship today the phallic symbol." (especially the old ones with extension chords)
    Sorry. Shoud of waited for bciah to tell one first. Didn't mean to step on your toes there, bobcat.

    June 27, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      @ Prophet of Doom

      No toes stepped on here. I thought that was pretty funny actually.

      June 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Prophetess

      The only ones *I* know that worships them are the idiots that *posess* them. What a stupid leap!!!

      June 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      Now their moderating my comment responding to you. All I said was I thought it was funny.

      June 27, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      LOL, My girlfriends father-inlaw has one ( extension cord and all )

      June 27, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    (don't bother moderating that last post. Here's a better one)
    Did you folks know that over 3000 years ago there were churches with steeples that had crosses on top? Really. Ancient Babylon, who also set the pattern for enslaveing black men and then giving them a job in the military. (Babylons entire army was made up of black African men. All the citizens had to do was sacrifice their children to the "god of war" once in awhile. Handed the child to the high priest who tossed the infant in a bowl of boiling oil..
    Learn from, not history, rather history of nations.

    June 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobcat (in a hat)©

      @ Philip

      Don't look now, but there are still many churches with crosses on top of their steeples.

      June 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Piers Morgan, Supervillain

    I am just happy to see Jews and Muslims agreeing about something. Kumbaya, my lord. Kumbaya.

    June 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I agree, Piers.....who knew?

      June 27, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Philip

    Ancient Israelites knew, and adopted this law as their own.

    June 27, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    I agree with you >>>Piers Morgan, Supervillian.<<<

    I am glad to see Jews and Muslims agree on something also.
    Oh, Lord,

    June 27, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Philip

    They've almost always agreed on who gets the most weapons from the USA. Sheesh. Why make such a big deal over an old jewish law. Commme on! Yer all gentiles here. he he

    June 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Philip

    Admit it. We are a nation of gentiles to the Jews.
    Why in the world people even listen to preachers proclaiming Israel is "gods chosen nation" as if US Troops serve God when defending Israel is a mystery none want mentioned here. But things like thhis do let the cat out of the bag. (bobcat out, telling jokes) I'm saving a good one for his next go-round. 🙂

    June 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Philip

    Really. It's a toss-up who gets more US military aid...Israelis, or Arabs. (keep in mind, 22% of Israels population are arabic)

    June 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • GoStickYourReligion.

      Uh, Arab Israelis ARE Israelis.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe"

    Your a dad? Whose the adult? Wait till they're teens and let them decide? Your joking right? It's like the other guy just get's more complicated...he means medicaly complicated. Your boys pick up an's on you...Daddy.

    June 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • waldo8

      @Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "The Lunatic Fringe"
      Your a dad? Whose the adult? Wait till they're teens and let them decide? Your joking right? It's like the other guy just get's more complicated...he means medicaly complicated. Your boys pick up an's on you...Daddy.

      and if it goes wrong when they are babies who's it on?

      I don't want to call names. you can not fight on both sides of the same coin?

      bottom line is, no one has a right to mutilate my body. It's my body!

      Just because you have "x" religion does not mean that your son will share your religion (I guess that's what honor killings are for, or are honor killings only for daughters)?

      June 28, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
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