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.

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

    Nahzees alive and well in Germany.

    June 28, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    Ban it everywhere. It is a barbaric practice.

    June 28, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • nosferatu

      How about this, you just worry about yourself and your family? Stay the f out of my private life. Get a hobby, play golf, build birdhouses, just mind your OWN freakin' business.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. ramon machtesh

    Since the Germans finally discovered soap, it's really not a big deal if they keep the hoods on their dinks, as long as they DO wash... occasionally. But why are they threatened if a few people don't? Oh, right, the fifth crusade hasn't happened yet, and there are actually LOTS of Muslims in Germany. I love all the people who DON'T believe in G-d, but have absolute moral certainty about denying people their religious freedom ("diversity"). What about all the people who have holes punched, marks permanently tattooed, scars deliberately created, in the pursuit of "personal expression"? Is Germany going to outlaw those? Since when does faith reside in the foreskin? You mean someone with a traumatic or surgical amputation can't decide on his or her beliefs later in life> Really? What culture REQUIRES a foreskin?

    June 28, 2012 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Absolutely spot on!

      June 28, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
    • ihatechristians

      Ruling applies to children. Most infants don't get piercings or tatoos. Apples & oranges.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      LOTS of baby girls have their ears pierced. My daughter had her's done around age 3 and had years of infections from it. Parents make all sorts of permanent decisions on behalf of our children, some good and others potentially harmful. But it is our right and responsibility to do so.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. Oscar Pitchfork

    Sounds like the fourth reich is just a few years from becoming reality...

    June 28, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. LC B

    I'ts about time SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, finally takes this (albeit controversial) 'bull by the horns' issue – and begins the attempts to STOP MUTILATING males' genitals! for any – other than medically necessary – reason. This barbaric practice is not acceptable by any society that claims to be civilized. Hurray for the Germans for taking the lead, whatever their agenda may be.

    June 28, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
    • nosferatu

      Why is is SO difficult for you people to just worry about yourselves and your family? Is your life really that small and your lack of control over ANYTHING in your life so bad that you have to subject everyone to your inadequacies?

      June 28, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. aimeedorsey3351

    Why does the German government feel it is necessary to intrude on it's citizens religious beliefs?
    @DaveinPA if you do not know about God, don't speak of him.

    June 28, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  7. Anie

    The Germans got it right. If it is not medically necessary then it is butchery. It is also a permanent physical change forced upon a minor for no reason than to enprision them in their archaic mythological system. Might as well say its a religious right to tattoo a swastica on their children's forehead. Time to admit that forcing religion on minors is wrong and it is time to make it illegal for minors to be Involved or instructed in religion. Like any other harmful thing, it should only be allowed upon adulthood ( like drinking and going to war).

    June 28, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ralph

    I had it done after I was married. Biggest mistake of my life. Of course if it is done as a baby, you will never know the difference.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Buzz Mann

    Snip away,if I want a hat for my junk then I'll buy one.You can get them all colors ,shapes and sizes.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. MCR

    Really, Germany, do you really want to go down that road again?

    June 28, 2012 at 9:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. MCR

    I thought Germany ended religious persecution at the end of WWII...

    Yes Bob, it IS about hate.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Ted

      LOL...How exactly is this religious "persecution"?

      June 28, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      Ted, outlawing a practice that is a part of one's religion is called religious persecution...what would YOU call it? Ring around the rosie? Hey, why don't we ban communion because of the whole "eat my body" thing? Sheesh!

      June 28, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dirk Diggler

    Mine is too long, I need size reduction surgery, not just a snipping of the hood on my python.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      And then you woke up, Marky Mark.

      June 28, 2012 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  13. James

    Brillant! Next...Child birth, that causes pain, lets just keep adding to the list...How about body piercing, this is done for personal reasons, so lets eliminate it also...The WORLD IS STUPID

    June 28, 2012 at 9:18 am | Report abuse |
  14. Merlin

    I'm not German "bashing", but it appears to me they seem to over complicate everything they do, from their technology to social behavior. SAP is a good way to integrate and merge databases, but good grief... ten ways to do one thing? Their hardware is just as complicated and when you have a problem, you have to order a part that is not a shelf stocked item...they have to "custom build it" at their factory while you wait for weeks and months. Now a social issue? Wow...

    June 28, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Tommy Lobotomy

      Well, they removed part of my brain, and I can still read CNN articles!

      June 28, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Vincent

    Not sure if its really the governments business whether its done for religion, hygiene, or cosmetics. If its done as a choice, then its up to the individual.
    But the individual should pay for the procedure if done for anything other than a real health reason.

    June 28, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Koji

      You do know that that is at the very HEART of the issue right? That children aren't given a choice in the matter, their parents are forcing a cosmetic procedure on a child without the child having any say in the matter.

      This is equivalent to giving little girls breast augmentation 6 weeks after they are born. Now, if it's your religions tenures to do so I can at least be understanding of it, but I'll never approve of someone mutilating a child for no good reason. We have outrage when in africa they hold young girls down and cut off their labia, but this is exactly equivalent and we don't only look the other way, but heavily promote it.

      June 28, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • cindy lou

      That's kinda that point. In infant cannot give consent.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23