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. notalright

    He threw my foreskin in the trash. I think a cat got it

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

      Mine was made into a little change purse that I received at my confirmation. When you rub it, it doubles in size.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. hypatia

    German anti-Semitism is alive and well.

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

      Would you have an issue if this was done to women? If you do, than what makes it ok to do it to men?

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

      If you don't know the difference between a 4skin and a cl*t, you have anatomy problems and you need to go back to school.
      Oh, yeah, I've had the hood of my cl*t not a very good analogy there, chief. May I say that it's greeeeeeat?

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

      So Germany banned this practice because the are anti- semetic , eh? Lot of jewish trash!

      June 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mbane

    This is a religious practice that somehow made it's way to hospitals all over North America. This is not done in Europ, South America, Asia or Africa. Thumbs up to the Germans!

    June 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Realist

    Outrage? I'm outraged that religion is still used as a justification for anything. Religious people just aren't smart, plain and simple.

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

      "religious people just aren't smart" probably the most over-reaching, prejudicial comment I've read in a long time.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • motown

      I'm outraged that you are so simple minded. Not everyone does it for religious reasons, it's elective in most cases just like removing tonsils. Also, just another reason to share your misogynistic views on religion, eh? Simple things amaze simple minds....

      June 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. wolf776

    There was a time when the powers that be said the same thing about vaccination.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. JonfromLI

    Well that makes my decision on whether or not my next car will be a Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, or Volkswagon. Well, not really. I made that decision long ago – when I first got my license.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Andrew McCauley

    Just because my religion says that I get to cut my kid's face when he becomes a man doesn't mean I'm allowed to abuse my child. And just because my religion says I get to sacrifice a virgin doesn't mean I'm allowed to commit homicide.

    In short, the right to practice religion ends when it infringes on the rights of another individual, which includes mutilation.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. IRENE

    that may be the parents religious views, but that child has not chosen their religious path – we have to decide for ourselves our direction. Just because you are born to Jewish or Muslim parents should not automatically define who you are, that is part of our growing process and it is what is dividing the world just now. Take away religion or at least repsect others views and the majority of the world would live in peace.. I cannot imagine inflicting this on a child for other than medical reasons. Even worse is the ones who force it on girls in ther teenage years, horrendous

    June 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. doctor

    Is this kid selling skin in exchange for money???? Typically jewish!

    June 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      I got my foreskin caught in an escalator once. It hurt.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • BlueAlligator

      Oh really, Doctor jew-hater? You can hate jews all u want but you have to catch polio because Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine, was a jew. And when you get sick or in trouble with the law you can't go see the brilliant jewish doctor or lawyer you need. Also, no Seinfeld, 3 Stooges, Superman (created by 2 jews) or Spielberg films. And, by the way, Christopher Columbus was also a jew so you will have to be deported to your miserable country of origin of your ancestors who were likely Neanderthals. LOL. So, go ahead and hate the jews. But you need to not benefit in any way from their brilliant accomplishments which you avail yourself of every day!

      June 28, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Woody

    Say some nutty religious group came up with the idea that left handed people are easily possessed by demons.Therefore, all newborn babies should have their left arm surgically removed shortly after birth. I wonder if the same people defending circ-umcision on religious grounds would go to bat for this latest group of loonies. I have a feeling that they probably would. There is nothing quite like ancient, goofy religious beliefs to stifle the progress of humanity.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Barowner

      Under your logic and the logic of the german state, cosmetic repair of a hair lip or a deformed ear would be deemed not medically necessary either.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      comparing chomping off a hand to a foreskin is incredibly stupid even for an atheist

      June 28, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JC

    Well of course it's "bodily harm" when the kid is like 6. Snip that stuff when they're oblivious babies!

    June 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    All Jews and Muslims must be incarcerated immediately!

    June 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Aaron

    Yay Germany!

    June 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Pappa Smurf

    My dad was never "cut" however and at the age of 55 he got cancer due to his foreskin.

    So I guess you can cut off a little skin early or cut the hole thing off later!!

    June 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • BRod

      Stop trolling. Foreskin does not cause cancer – it is part of human anatomy! It is SUPPOSED to be there! I suppose you think all women should have their breasts removed at puberty, because they might get breast cancer someday?

      June 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • les

      He would have gotten cancer with or without anyway.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Frank

    My forseskin was made into a little change purse that I received at my confirmation. When you rub it, it doubles in size.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
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