German government looking for quick fix on circumcision ban

German government looking for quick fix on circumcision ban

Angela Merkel says she’s committed to protecting religious freedoms

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks in Tel Aviv, in February (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks in Tel Aviv, in February (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

BERLIN — The German government wants to ensure Jewish and Muslim parents can continue circumcising their sons despite a local court’s ruling that the practice amounts to criminal bodily harm.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the government is committed to protecting religious freedom including the ancient practice of circumcision, provided it is carried out responsibly.

Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin Friday that the government is seeking a quick solution to resolve the issue.

Jewish and Muslim leaders have protested the Cologne court’s ruling in the case of the circumcision of a 4-year-old boy that led to medical complications.

The head of the German Medical Association this week recommended that doctors cease performing circumcisions for religious reasons until the law can be clarified.

Last month, the District Court of Cologne ruled that parents who had their sons circumcised could be prosecuted for causing bodily injury, even if they did so for religious reasons. In their decision, the judges stated that neither the rights of parents nor the constitutional freedom of religion could justify the procedure’s “severe and irreversible interference into physical integrity.”

As a consequence of the Cologne ruling and the resulting “lack of legal clarity,” the Jewish Hospital of Berlin announced it would cease to perform circumcision “until further notice.”

German Ambassador to Israel Andreas Michaelis told the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Monday that there is no law in the German books that prohibits circumcisions and that the controversial court ruling only applies locally. “This verdict is not binding for other courts. It’s a decision based on a single case,” he said.

“The German government will study this judgment very thoroughly and carefully consider possible consequences of this decision,” Michaelis said. He also sent a letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, in which he reiterated that circumcisions are “accepted legally and societally in Germany” as a medical procedure, if a child’s parents agree to have the operation performed.

Michaelis pointed out that the Cologne court had ruled that circumcisions are merely considered a minor bodily injury. Had the court defined the procedure as a severe bodily injury, all local prosecution offices in Germany would have been obligated to look for offenders. In the current situation, a mohel would only be subject to penalty if someone actually took him to court in the jurisdiction of the Cologne district court.

“I know that this is not satisfying, and that a feeling of legal uncertainty persists in the Jewish communities,” Michaelis told the Israeli lawmakers. “Your colleagues in Germany are already on summer break but I am sure that this question will be picked up again if we assess that this judgment genuinely creates legal problems in Germany.”

The issue brought together representatives of Jewish and Islamic communities in Europe, who are both affected by the ruling. “We consider this to be an affront on our basic religious and human rights,” a joint delegation of Jewish and Muslim officials declared Monday. “We will vigorously defend our right to maintain our mutual tradition and call on the German Parliament and all political parties to intervene in overruling this decision as a matter of urgency.”

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