German parliament defends circumcision after ban

Resolution to protect religious circumcision passes first hurdle in German parliament, decision would overrule Cologne court.

Germany Circumcision (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Germany Circumcision (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Germany's lower house of parliament passed a resolution on Thursday to protect the religious circumcision of infant boys after a district court ban on the practice outraged Muslims and Jews and sparked an emotional debate in the country.
The main political parties have criticized the ruling by a Cologne court and Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has promised a new law to make clear doctors or families will not be punished for carrying out the procedure.
The speed with which lawmakers agreed on the terms of the motion underscored sensitivity to charges of intolerance in a country haunted by its Nazi past.
The resolution, jointly filed by Merkel's conservatives, their liberal coalition ally (FDP) and the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), demanded that "the government present a draft law in the autumn ... that guarantees that the circumcision of boys, carried out with medical expertise and without unnecessary pain, is permitted".
The new law would overrule the Cologne court decision.
Lawmakers noted in the resolution that the court ruling had deeply unsettled Muslims and Jews in Germany, as they feared the practice would now be outlawed, while doctors were alarmed at the threat of prosecution if they performed operations.
"Jewish and Muslim religious life must continue to be possible in Germany. Circumcision has a central religious significance for Jews and Muslims," the resolution stated.
Merkel has said Germany risked becoming a "laughing stock" if Jews were not allowed to practice their rituals.
About 120,000 Jews are registered as living in Germany along with around 4 million Muslims, many of whom are from Turkey which has also criticized the court ruling.
Germany's Central Council of Jews described the Cologne ruling as an "unprecedented and dramatic intrusion" on religious freedom and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany called it a "blatant and inadmissible interference" in parents' rights.
The court ruling triggered a highly charged debate in Germany over infants' and parents' rights, religious freedom and the irreversible practice of circumcision itself.
An overwhelming majority of lawmakers voted in favor of the resolution, although the small opposition Left party opposed it, suggesting that infant boys could have a "symbolic circumcision" then undergo the actual operation when older.
Although it is the world's most commonly practiced surgical procedure, he said, it could lead to complications and must be viewed as a significant procedure.
A poll released on Thursday suggested almost half of Germans support a ban on the religious circumcision of boys. The YouGov survey showed 45 percent wanted to end the Islamic and Jewish tradition. About 42 percent were against a ban and 13 percent had no opinion.
The Cologne court, ruling in the case of a Muslim boy who suffered bleeding after circumcision, said the practice inflicted bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys, although it could be practiced on older males with consent.
This is not acceptable under Jewish religious practice, which requires boys to be circumcised from eight days old, nor for many Muslims, for whom the age of circumcision varies according to family, country and tradition.
The bill was rushed through in the same sitting as a vote on aid to Spain for which lawmakers were recalled from their holidays.