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. Tom

    Well if it got Jews and Muslims to play nice together I'd say this is good news! Whoda thunk it?

    June 28, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  2. JCDavis

    It's about time that some country puts an end to this religious barbarism. It won't happen in the theocracy of the US, unfortunately. We will continue to live in the dark ages.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      I hate organized religion but your comments are just plain stupid. When your IQ begins to come close to your hat size you can post again.

      June 28, 2012 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ron

    It's about time somebody was brave enough to condemn this barbaric act!

    June 28, 2012 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Hebrew

      Not any worse than a bone through your nose or multiple piercings popular among the current liberal elites in Europe.

      This is a matter of freedom of religion. It is obvious the Germans who approved this did not learn the harsh lessons of World War 2 like the Dresden firebombing.

      June 28, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. DL

    Silly Germans – in the US, we only like to interfere with Womens body's for 'religious' reasons

    June 28, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  5. Cutme

    Hey Doug, you need to read the article. If you had you would have seen where the procedure can prevent STD like AIDS. Nice hyperbole though.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. Uncut is NASTY

    Get away from me with that nasty, smelly, dirty thing.

    Yeah, yeah, so you washed it. It still is nasty, two seconds after you're done.

    And it makes your dick look funny, too. Ugly.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Walrus Mustache

      No its not. my skin is always clean. Its the way God made me. why are you sniffing my crotch anyway?

      June 28, 2012 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. yeahalright

    It's my religious conviction to chop a body part off any parent who does this to their baby. And it's my firm religious conviction so it should totally be allowed, no?

    June 28, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  8. Joe B.

    Next the German court will rule that Greeks and Spaniards should be sterilized.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Hebrew

      Not to be anti-German but these are the people who brought us World War I and World War II. The blood of millions of Slavs, Jews, Brits and Frenchmen are on the hands of the Germanic peoples.

      June 28, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  9. revansatoda

    God is perfect and created us in his image, one of perfection. He then changed his mind and told us to cut parts off the private parts of our children. This was n a time before surgical knives and antibiotics.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • JAI

      God did not change his mind. He NEVER changes His mind. He tests Humanity to see if we will obey what He tell us to do, no matter how unreasonable it seems. In Genesis 22, He even commanded Abraham to sacrifice his own son, but just as Abraham was about to do it, God stopped him. It was a test, but it was also foreshadowing of things to come. Later, God sacrificed His OWN son.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. David Ellis

    I'm Jewish had a baby boy about 11 months ago. If it weren't for the fact that my family would be horrified, I don't think I would have done it.
    I strongly doubt the people who write the practice into jewish canon were really aware of the fact that it reduces AIDS infection rates so I don't think you could use that as a reason while simultaneously saying it upholds religios beliefs.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. brass monkey

    If you want it to look like a banana, that's your right.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Walrus Mustache

      Love my banana, thanks!

      June 28, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  12. abcontador

    another stupid religious practice - this is great news and it should be done is the US as well. An adult should be the only one deciding if they want part of their body (the most sensitive part no less) cut off and thrown in the trash. Another example of why religion is bad

    June 28, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Banana Boat

      if u want your banana peeled when when u get older the u are really looking for some pain

      June 28, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • APSS

      When some parts of Africa does it to females, it is called mutiliation and torture. When religions practiced in the west and the US does it by default to boys it is doing the right thing!!

      Just stop it all. It is all mutiliation.

      Only cutting hair and nails is okay because they are dead partsof the body 🙂

      June 28, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  13. Walrus Mustache

    I should sue my parents for cutting me! Barbaric act to mutilate my body against my will. I'm so glad the germans say no way!.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. Three3

    If there should be a god, why oh why would he care about this, let alone require it? Seems awfully silly to me.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kebkeb

    Ah yes, the Germans! Eternal arbiters of the well-being of Semdtic children!

    June 28, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
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