BERLIN – Mainly Jewish protesters, as well as Muslims and Christians, demonstrated on Sunday for religious freedom and the decriminalization of circumcision in the Federal Republic.
Police officials said 300 demonstrators appeared at Bebelplatz in the Mitte district in eastern Berlin.
According to German media reports, the former head of Berlin’s 10,500-member Jewish community, Lala Süskind, spoke at the rally and said it was unacceptable that people who are incompetent and intolerant continue to “pipe up“ against circumcision and find a large echo in German society.
Süskind, a popular Jewish leader in Berlin, stressed that the religious ritual is important for identity for young Jewish and Muslim boys, and noted that the World Health Organization recommends the procedure as a medically accepted practice. The demonstrators turned out as a reaction to last week’s administrative law decision from Berlin state Sen.
Thomas Heilmann, who outlined preconditions for performing circumcision. He holds the justice and consumer protection portfolio.
According to Heilmann, for circumcision to remain legal, parents must prove that the procedure has a religious basis, the state authority must advise the parents of the health risks associated with circumcision, and a physician, rather than a mohel, will perform the medical procedure.
Jewish organizations in Berlin and across the country have categorically rejected Heilmann’s law as gutting religious freedom in Berlin. The Berlin senator issued the new regulation in response to a Cologne court decision that criminalized circumcision in the western German city. The ban of brit mila rocked German- Jewish relations and shined an uncomfortable spotlight on the justice system’s treatment of religious freedom in post-Holocaust Germany.
According to Focus magazine, Dr. Dieter Graumann, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, said, “I find it as intolerable that we, Jews, have been labeled torturers of children and a part of Jewish life has been presented as illegitimate.”
Kenan Kolat, the head of the Turkish community in Germany, said at the Sunday rally that “no one can stop circumcision in Germany.” He added that “the accusations of opponents of circumcision show the prejudices of some Germans, as well as the growing anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism,“ the German wire service DAPD reported.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Focus on Sunday on his way to Jordan, “I am very worried about this debate. It will in no way be understood outside of our country.” He added that the dispute must be resolved so that religious traditions remained protected in Germany.
Germany’s federal Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser- Schnarrenberger said on Sunday that the government will fully implement the resolution of the Bundestag concerning the non-criminality of circumcision.