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. lolwut

    "The court ruled that the child's right to physical integrity is more important than the parent's basic rights."

    Heh...try that argument on the pro-choice crowd and see how far it gets you.

    June 28, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. 22X Richer

    Having breasts enlarged for nothing more than vanity is A-okay in the eyes of the court even though it takes far more mutilation to accomplish the task.

    June 28, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • irbsod

      So how many children do you know that have had their breasts enlarged 5 days after they are born?

      June 28, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Natalia

    Religious reasons aside...It is cruel and barbaric.

    I made the decision not to have it done for my sons, even after criticism that I was subjecting them to future humiliation.

    My decision was confirmed, when with my last, the little premie in the next room was taken back for his procedure, afterward he whimpered and cried all night without the comfort of his parents.

    Horrible practice, anything towards banning it, regardless of relious reasons, I am all for.

    June 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • DJR

      Sorry, Natalia, calling bs on your story. Oh, not at your choice not to have your kid circ umcised, but at your story that they did it to a preemie. I'm a neo-natal nurse. They don't DO circ umcisions on preemies. Don't embellish to make a point.

      June 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. petercha

    Intolerance of religious beliefs and practices. And sadly, America seems to be moving in the same direction.

    June 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. myslant

    To the editor:

    I have informed your superiors. Thank you.

    June 28, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. waldo8

    @Michelle
    No German boys for me! Yuck...cut it....makes it so much cuter...please!

    Think about what you just posted. You do understand that by doing this you are having done something that can not be undone?
    plus some times doing this "cut it" turns out badly? is it worth the risk for "makes it so much cuter" really?
    learn more, find out what can go wrong, because some times. It does go wrong!

    There's a chance that if you have this "cut" done to your son, to make it "so much cuter" it could turn out badly (think of Karma at this point).

    June 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Greg

    This is a terrible messaging system. Three times I've had my messages not appear at all. This is no way to have a discussion. Maybe I should say "Ewww, it's gross", or "it's cuter". That must be what's worthy of a CNN-level discussion.

    June 28, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CanuckImport

    Whatever your opinion; it will not stop either of these religious groups from continuing this ritual. In fact, if anything, these procedures will now take place, illegally, under perhaps medically unsupervised conditions and putting these children's health at risk.

    June 29, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. HEBREW

    Even as their population dwindles away to a dandelion, the northerners are still trying to tell the brown world what to do.

    It's time to turn the tables and start with a BOYCOTT ALL GERMAN GOODS!

    This is an act of war against the rest of the world who is not a german pagan.

    June 29, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  10. One one

    Seems like a barbaric cult practice.

    June 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. One one

    Let them make their own decision when they become adults.

    June 29, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • lindy226

      It is legal to abort babies in Germany..guess that's ok...

      July 8, 2012 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rick

    The use of the gomco clamp means a surprisingly large amount of the foreskin is removed, which often causes problems for the victims such as painful erections, discoloration of the skin and scar tissue.

    June 29, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  13. BOYCOTT GERMAN GOODS

    germans should mind their own business.

    July 1, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      this is their business. it is called the welfare of a child.

      July 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BOYCOTT GERMAN GOODS

    Nuff said!!!

    July 1, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. so help us God

    it's legal to suck out a babies brain as he's being born; but criminal to cut off 1/2 an inch of skin... that really adds up, once again government overreaches

    July 2, 2012 at 3:09 am | Report abuse |
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