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. BRod

    One of these days, humanity will look back and think of us as barbarians for cutting bits off of our children.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • toofarawayfromboston

      Well, with your argument we should never sever the umbilicus. How stupid...

      June 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      so far it has been 5000 years -

      June 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Crack

    That's why they should also remove a woman's breasts at the age of 40.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. John Riddick

    You want cheese....or no cheese..lmao

    June 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. HowieInBrissie

    This is not surprising. This is Germany we are talking about after all. What country is more Auslaenderfeindisch / xenophobic, Islamophobic (large Turkish minority), and, need I say, anti-Semitic? I used to despise them because they did not recognize me as a national due to my mother's citizenship. I suppose men are more important to a militaristic state. Now I am just happy to be an American.

    June 28, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karl

      If you think this is okay... welcome to the world of government healthcare.

      June 28, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Benson

    Sounds like something the NAZI Party would do... I guess Germans still can't shake off their past...

    June 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sy2502

    Freedom of religion only allows you to chop off pieces of YOUR OWN BODY, not someone else's. Especially if that someone else is a child who can't give you any consent. So sick and tired of religious nonsense.

    June 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dekkar

    So much this. Being a parent should NOT give you the right to alter your child's body, even if you think it's in their best interests. The only time you should be able to is if it's an immediate life or death thing (ie: limb infected with flesh eating bacteria, making the choice to amputate to save their life). Just because the POTENTIAL for infection may be higher (it's not if you practice proper hygeine), doesn't give you the right to alter your child's body. People under 18 need to start being treated like PEOPLE instead of PROPERTY.


    Freedom of religion only allows you to chop off pieces of YOUR OWN BODY, not someone else's. Especially if that someone else is a child who can't give you any consent."

    June 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dave

    I am shocked that Germany would pass a law that is anti Jewish

    June 28, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. charles roast

    Leave the poor babies alone. The whole of humanity is waiting for you medieval ghouls to finally die..

    June 28, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dliodoir

      There are many ancient traditions observed by many cultures that do not conform to our modern, Western sensibilities. Do you suggest they all be aboloished? Should everyone in the entire world have the same ethos and world view? Should we eliminate all cultural uniqueness that somehow impugnes supreme individuality? This was Ayn Rand's vision. I guess you share it. The funny thing is, libertarian/conservatives hail her for her economic philosophy and liberals hairl her for her hatred of religion.

      June 28, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • lindy226

      Jews have been doing this for thousands of years and don't need nazi Germany to tell them what to do.. by the
      way abotion is i guess it is ok to kill babies

      June 28, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • nosferatu

      You should worry about your own baby(s) and I'll worry about mine thank you.

      June 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • David

      Dliodoir: Most legal systems today do not allow many ancient traditions, like stoning and honor killing, that are considered inhumane or which violate the rights of individuals. Why do you have a problem with that? Nobody is advocating that all traditions be eliminated, but any body who wants to uphold traditions that violate other individuals rights is fighting an uphill battle, as they should be! Traditions and laws are always changing. I for one see this as a step forward.

      June 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • William

      You must have missed the part about "there is 'substantial evidence' the procedure can help protect against urinary tract infections, syphilis, HIV and chancroid and invasive penile cancer."

      June 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      David: Do you believe a woman has the right to choose abortion? If so, you are completely contradicting yourself. And before anyone starts bashing me on this statement, I believe in the right to choose. If we are going to allow choice for terminating a pregnancy, why not a choice in this matter? As I stated before, Orthodontia is painful and can be down right cruel at times. In most cases it's not a medical necessity but no one seems think that it is cruel to put a pre teen or teen through that trauma. What's so different in this case?

      I don't understand what the fuss is all about anyway. Is it those that aren't cut are ashamed and want other to be like them. Or is it those that are cut, feel they are missing out on additional pleasure? In my 41 years, I've never felt cheated because my parents chose to cut off my skin. I've never once thought I could get any more pleasure if I wasn't cut. To the contrary, the last thing I would want is to be more sensitive and speed things up if you know what I mean. I have never met a man that says otherwise. Though I haven't met every man so my sample size is probably not statistically relevant.

      June 28, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill

    More govt regulations. Yippeee!!!!!!!!!!. Any elective procedure that causes any pain could be next.

    No ear piercings until 18, No cosmetic procedures to correct cleft pallets or other abnormalities, No Orthodontia, no mole or wart removal, No Tonsil removal.

    June 28, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • reason

      Bill has anyone ever told you you are not very bright?

      June 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roger

      Not unless it is being done for medical reasons...

      June 28, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Nope. Quite the contrary.

      June 28, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      Reason- Why not contribute by posting your thoughts about my post.

      Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. -Elanor Roosevelt

      June 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. patrickwpowell

    for those screaming freedom of religion. if a religion called for the cuting off of all newborns baby finger would you allow that becuse their religion called for it?

    June 28, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • kambmomto3

      if somehow cutting off a finger was proven by the world health organization to go a long way to preventing some forms of cancer, stds and UTIs.. i'd consider it. but the foreskin is not used to pick things up.or type. or write. or climb. or... what's it used for??

      June 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LOL Religion

    Cut off part of your child's d!ck....for GOD!

    Makes perfect sense.

    June 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evangenital

      I thought I was the only one who spoke like that, DITTO!

      June 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dawn

    you have a right to practice your religion but you don't have a right to do it to your kids

    June 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • cchip

      Actually, we do have the right.

      June 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      So true Dawn. This is how a race of fanatics are created. Bring a child up with tolerancce and education and teach that child about all of the so-called religions. Then let that child choose the path they want to take. If they choose your path, then and only then, should you cut off a piece of their body.

      June 28, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod C. Venger

      As long as they are my kids it is. Shall I also not cut their hair and nails? Some kids are traumatized when bathed. Should I not bathe them anyway? How about baptism and education? Who are you to decide to educate your kids early? Schooling takes up nearly a 3rd of a child's life. What if the child later wants to be as ignorant and stupid as you? You can't unring that bell, can you?

      How about letting parents raise their kids according to their own beliefs? Until you start paying the bills and changing the diapers, that's the way it should be.

      June 28, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. WhatWhatWhat?

    Religious delusionists cram all their BS down your throat when you're a kid, and then then have the nerve to cut your junk, all without you're approval? I applaud this decision, especially because this act is only based on religious delusion. They may as well be doing female genital mutilations while they're at it, eh?

    June 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Thor88

    Good for Germany

    June 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
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