German Court Bans Male Circumcision

A German court has stepped into a religious minefield with a decision to ban circumcision in the city of Cologne

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A German court has managed to bring together Christians, Muslims and Jews — at least in a shared sense of outrage. The court in Cologne has banned circumcision for boys on the grounds that it amounts to bodily harm.

(MORE: How 11 New York City Babies Contracted Herpes Through Circumcision)

The court made its ruling in the case of a 4-year-old boy who had been circumcised at the wishes of his Muslim parents. Two days later, he began bleeding profusely and was taken to a hospital — at which point a public prosecutor stepped in and filed charges against the doctor.

The regional court acquitted the doctor, but decided that the operation did in fact constitute bodily injury and that the child’s right to physical integrity and self-determination comes before the parents’ basic rights, including freedom of religion.

The ruling only applies to the area around Cologne, but the backlash has been severe across the country, perhaps reflecting the concern that it could become a ban on the federal level. Leaders in the Muslim community, which numbers about 4 million in Germany, said the ruling was “adversarial to the cause of integration and discriminatory against all the parties concerned.”

Over in the U.S., where nearly half of all men are circumcised, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, said in a statement that while the ruling did not appear to take an anti-Semitic slant, “its effect is to say, ‘Jews are not welcome.’”

Not to be left out, Germany’s Christian churches also railed against the ruling, with the Catholic Episcopal Conference calling it “extremely disconcerting.”

Turkey, meanwhile, took a more proactive approach. The country’s European Minister, Egemen Bagis, offered to send over “scientific circumcisers” to give the Germans “lessons in how to circumcise.”

(MORE: Fifty Years On, Turks Are Still Outsiders in Germany)

For Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, the whole saga has been a massive headache. Speaking with German daily Bild, he said the ruling caused “irritation” and that Germany is in fact a place where “traditions like circumcision are considered an expression of religious pluralism.”