Religious Communities Debate Court’s Circumcision Ruling
Leaders of Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities have criticized a court ruling they fear could make circumcision a punishable offense in the country. Only 10 percent of German boys are circumcised, but the issue of whether parents should be able to decide if their children undergo the procedure remains divisive.
In Germany, most men aren’t circumcised. But in a diverse country that is home to a number of religious communities, the question of whether parents should be able to determine whether or not their children undergo the procedure can be a hot-button topic. And it is an issue that is unlikely to go away anytime soon, despite a ruling by a German court this week that circumcision represents “bodily harm” to children.
Cologne’s regional court ruled Tuesday that doctors in the country who circumcise a boy for religious reasons can be accused of committing bodily injury, even in cases where parents have given their express consent.
At issue is no less than the question of which takes precedence: parents’ religious freedom or the right of a child’s physical integrity. The Cologne judges have now decided that the right of parents to raise their children religiously does not take precedence over the child’s right to self-determination. What’s more, they also came to the conclusion that circumcision is in opposition to a child’s well-being. Although the ruling is not legally binding for other courts, many expect it will influence other future decisions.
In Germany, circumcision procedures are regularly carried out by doctors, even if the justification is religious rather than medical. In some clinics, mass circumcisions are even carried out. So far, doctors have been operating in a legal gray area, with unclear legal provisions on the subject. Doctors have long been able to invoke that legal vagueness in order to claim the legality of their actions under current German law. After Tuesday’s ruling, however, many fear this will no longer be the case.