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German circumcision ban incites new religious controversy in Europe

The ruling of a court in Cologne in June to ban circumcision of young boys for religious reasons has riled Muslims and Jews alike. 

By Lisa De BodeContributor / July 17, 2012



• A  summary of global reports on the German court ruling.

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A German court set off religious controversy late last week with its ruling that the circumcision of young boys on religious grounds is illegal. Some commentators categorize the ban as just one of many legislative restrictions on religious minorities in Germany, and as part of growing religious intolerance in Europe.

Reuters reports that the Cologne court took action after police were alerted by a doctor who treated the 4-year-old son of first-generation Turkish immigrants Muhsin Sapci and his wife, Gonca, for bleeding after the boy underwent circumcision. A prosecutor sued the doctor in court.

The court ruled that the removal of the boy’s foreskin amounted to bodily harm and involved intolerable health risks. The Economist writes that circumcision was deemed to violate Germany’s constitutional protection of individuals' physical integrity – religious freedom and parents’ rights came second – and thus should be considered a crime. The court further suggested waiting until the age of 14 so boys themselves could decide whether to be circumcised.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened over the court’s decision last Friday by promising the Muslim and Jewish communities that they are free to circumcise their children. Meanwhile, the Guardian writes that the government is urgently looking for a way around the ban.  

Medical risk

Given the legal uncertainty, medical practitioners are afraid lay people will start performing the operation, and ritual circumcisions will go underground. The New York Times reports that the German Medical Association condemned the court's decision for potentially exposing children to medical risk, but it also warned surgeons not to perform circumcisions for religious reasons until legal clarity was established.

“Right now everything is controlled, most people go to a doctor and the child is covered by insurance,” Muhsin Sapci, the young boy’s father said. “If they try to outlaw it, it will still be done, but differently, and that could have consequences.”

Public outcry

Germany is home to 4 million Muslims, the second biggest community in Europe, and to about 120,000 Jews. In a rare display of religious unity, the leaders of both faiths teamed up in Brussels and Berlin last week to demand a reversal of the ban.

The Economist writes that Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, asserted that the verdict, if it is upheld, “would make Jewish life in Germany, just as it is blooming again, practically impossible.”

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