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. Tim

    I think its abuse personally, Glad I still have my hood, keeps me warm on cold days

    June 27, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • LMAO

      Which head are you pulling that hood over, Tim??

      June 27, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. maryrm

    routinely performed in Canada? Less than a third of Canadian male children have this done. and as a preventive to HIV, that is under great debate. This article is poorly written.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Pete

    Once again Government acts as though it is the only one who can resolve issues. Government needs to stay out of our daily lives. Period!

    June 27, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • YBP

      Right, Pete. We should look to the religions of the ancient near east for further guidance, not just on this topic, but on all topics. Pesky governments!

      June 27, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  4. lol

    If evolution declared that the foreskin is there, then it shall stay there. In this day and age, this procedure offers very little considering how far our standards of cleaniness have come.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. whatthefork

    does germany have freedom of religion like we do?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • YBP

      You mean like here in the US, where we are free to be Christians, and nothing other?

      June 27, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fearlessdude

    Jews and Muslims are very optimistic people. They don't know how big it's going to be but they cut a piece of it off.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joe the Plumber

    This is a barbaric, arcane custom that needs to be stopped. Why in the world would God give babies foreskin only so that it would be cut off in order to make the baby a true Jew or Muslim. These religious people and their stupid ideas must be stopped.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. rad666

    Why don't they mutilate girls also?

    June 27, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ken margo

      They do!

      June 28, 2012 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
  9. Johnny

    Good on Germany for speaking out on this barbaric practise. Yes I understand its a rite for some religions, but so was shrinking heads and eating babies.....doesn't make it right or for that matter 'a right' for anybody. If an adult wishes to comply with religious 'tradition', that is his choice. The judge is right, it is NOT in the childs best interest.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • yourlogicisflawed

      yeah, Germany is great at imposing their will on other people's religions. They've been doing it since the 30's.

      June 27, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • New

      Actually it is.Its scientifically proven that prevents many diseases.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  10. Really?

    Honestly, all religious people are equally stupid. I personally think a belief in god shows an incredibly lack of imagination and intelligence. But far be it from me to deny someone their religious freedom! (unless it interferes with my life directly...).

    June 27, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • jackenstien

      I feel the same way about atheists.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
  11. Odumbo

    So Jew and Muslims share beard, caps, and small weewees.

    June 27, 2012 at 11:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Odumbo

    Germans always right!!

    June 27, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matt

    Good job Germany. Every boy has a natural right to grow up with healthy and intact genitals. If you believe that a god told you to peel the skin off of your weewee, please take some time to reflect upon whether that is actually a plausible or likely event to have actually happened. Bottom line: Judaism and Islam, like all religions, are not based on reason, empirical reality, or historical fact. A foreskin is a great thing to have.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  14. John Vans

    This practice is barbaric, stop this stupid practice immediately. No god or religion should allow this stupid practice. Just imagine yourself being cut off the foreskin, how painful that is the day after? The baby body much much more sensitive than adult, the pain level is a thousand times more....just imagine that people.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • AZ

      @john..How many tattoos you have ?
      lol thats not something inhuman where you give pain to yourself without any gain

      June 28, 2012 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. Religion Must be Respected

    These European countries love to impose their cultures on the people who follow their faith seriously unlike them who do not believe in anything. Muslims and Jews should boycott German made product, and Arab countries should stop selling oil to Germany and their allies.

    June 28, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • robert

      Better yet, they can leave Germany and go back to their tents in the desert where they can mutilate their children at will. Don't bring your backward culture to the west and expect everyone to support your bronze age cults.

      June 28, 2012 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Marek

      Why? Why should religion be respected?

      June 28, 2012 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
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