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. Beezbo

    An outrage! This decision should be reversed immediately! I also feel the restriction on my ability to sacrifice my firstborn to the volcano god by silting his throat so that he bleeds out on the alter is a serious infringement of religious freedom and should also be overturned!

    June 28, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. mahdeealoo

    Let me just cut your eye lids off. About the same. The foreskin has a purpose. THAT'S WHY IT'S A PART OF THE HUMAN BODY. Religious reasons or not, it is mutilation of the grossest form.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Jamjki

      Not a guy, right?

      June 28, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • rocketscientist

      Another crazy post equating the removal of a foreskin, that has little effect on a child's health, with the removal of eyelids, which obviously serve a great function.

      Get some help.

      Dr. H

      June 28, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. Maria

    Was the picture REALLY necessary?

    June 28, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
    • DrewNumberTwo

      The picture is more necessary than the procedure in the picture.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jamjki

    Yahweh will smithe thee, verilly

    June 28, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  5. listentoreallity

    I been abused by my parents they chop off my fore skin I want it back. Think people it fore skin. I never miss my for skin or wish I had it back so glad it was done early in life. people that say they should wait for the child to decide what to do is just a bull there are a lot of decision I need to make for my child that will affect the the rest of thier life. Anyone that says it is barbaric has never seen it done as an infant if the did they see how dumb this topic is. sometime one need to go out and find the answer for them selves and stop try to ban wagon on others Idea if how or what I should think my parent made the decision for me and I have also done it for my children. I guess the fore skin people are so upset right now at reading this I was supose have regrett love to see the result of folks that wish they had fore skin back and I bet that it would be 100% thankful that it was done at birth. b

    June 28, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  6. Susan B

    Leave it to the germans to make a decision that adversely affects Jews. They are still doing their best to be a problem.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. Polopoint

    This calls into question the courts definition of the word "harm"

    June 28, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. Chgo T

    I would guess that the procedure is painful – do they do something for the pain when the do this? I don't have kids & have never thought to looking into what the procedure entails. Sounds pretty inhumane. Can imagine having ANYTHING like that done to my female area – gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  9. LOL Religion

    Only religion could justify mutilating an infant's genitals.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Save the Rich, Vote GOP

      While I am not religious, I am certainly glad my parents "mutlitated" my genitals. My wife is likewise happy.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Me

    But abortion is "OK"?

    June 28, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Jessalyn

      Don't get one then, doltus.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      And you can kill a pig to eat, which can feel more and suffer more than a pea-sized embryo? The arguments are not the same.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • mbane

      Abortion and the mutilation of someone who is alive are two completly different subjects.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. listentoreallity

    it funny how Fore skin is a life changing for some and not others. I have to commend the fore skinner that are fighting for my lost fore skin I never new it was so important .

    June 28, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • mbane

      It is important in the bedroom as it contains over 200 nerve endings and give a man a lot more sensassion and feeling as well as it increases the size. Think of a saussage roll with the dough around it and without.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jessalyn

    My husband had a hoody. He wanted to marry me. He no longer has a hoody, and we're married. He said he wishes that his barents had it done at the time of his birth. Size isn't the only thing that matters, boys. Unless you plan on being alone for the rest of your life, because most women don't like the hoody...and trust me, women TALK.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • brad-ash

      It would suck to be you then in Europe. Did you read that in Germany about 90% have foreskin? Perceptions/tastes are cultural. Men talk and seem to like big breasts. Should we force small-breasted girls to get implants too?

      June 28, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • ou812

      "Most women don't like the hoody" Sorry, you don't get to lop of part of my wally just to impress my future girlfriends. I could be gay, for all you know.

      June 28, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • mbane

      What are you talking about? What you call a hoddie is part f the human body and contains over 200 nerve endings. Your husband must be an idiot. I wonder if you would be ok if that was done to you.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jessalyn

      Brad, good luck on getting those implants on your future infant daughter. Don't live in Europe, so that's a moot point.
      Van Smeg: congrats on your coming out. Nice to know you prefer hoods on your men.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • mbane

      brad-ash, it's not only Germans, it's basically everyone around the world except North America and those with weird religious beliefs that say it's ok to mutilate someone else's body.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jessalyn

      My husband says there is virtually no dif in sensation....and you sound very preoccupied with yourself...I'm sure you counted every nerve ending personally...get it on with yourself...blind boy.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakey

      Thats funny because I have a hoody, and have never EVER met a woman who didn't LIKE the hoody or had a problem with it....unless you're HOODy is so fugly...maybe there is a problem.....

      June 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakey

      Cutting off part of your body because of religion or lack of understanding is ignorant !!

      June 28, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lyden

      Lame

      June 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • IRENE

      sorry Jessalyn, you speak for some women not all – my husband got it done for medical reasons and I love him either way and to be honest don't notice any difference, either way pleases me. If that is why you pick your man then it is not for love.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Postuma

      What a load of garbage. Is that all you can talk about? Hubby's foreskin?

      June 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Hot Carl

    I'm glad I don't look like an ant eater. And who wants to deal with smegma? Thanks mom and dad.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  14. Literal

    Extremely grateful for mine, actually. My parents were Methodists however, done for cosmetic and hygienic reasons really and since I have no memory of the procedure...... win/win in my opinon.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  15. MB

    It's a religious practice, if you don't agree with it then don't do it. If you want to rule that parents have no right to impose religious beliefs on infants, then say goodbye to baptisms as well.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Nobody is giving the CHILD a chance to opt out! Keep your religious absurdities off of infants unable to speak for themselves!

      June 28, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
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