Court: Religious  circumcision is assault & punishable.

June 26, 2012

A judgment of the District Court of Cologne concerns a widespread medical procedure carried out for religious reasons.  According to the court, circumcision of boys to going forward is an assault.

Whomever cuts boys for religious reasons is liable to prosecution for assault. This was decided in the regional court in Cologne in a landmark judgment. Neither the parents nor the right to freedom of religion guaranteed in the Basic Law can justify this procedure, the judge clearly said in his ruling.

This is the first time a German court ruled a religious custom a crime. Every year in Germany, several thousand boys are circumcised in their early years at the request of parents. In the U.S., even the majority of boys – largely independent of the religion – circumcised right after birth. Also, there is forming now but massive resistance to this practice. Worldwide, about one-quarter of all men are circumcised.

For decades, doctors in Germany had acted in a legal gray area. If they cut boys for purely religious reasons and not medical necessity there could be legal and ethical issues. So far, they had no knowledge of the criminality for religious circumcisions. With the Cologne verdict this excuse is now gone.

“The verdict is very important, especially for doctors, because they now have legal certainty for the first time,” Holm said Putzke of the University of Passau. The criminal law has been calling an explicit prohibition of religious circumcision. “The court has – unlike many politicians – not to be deterred by the fear of being criticized as anti-Semitic and anti-religious,” praised Putzke.”This decision could not only shape the future case, but lead in the best case with the concerned religions to a shift in consciousness, to respect fundamental rights of children.”

Above all, Muslim and Jewish organizations evaluate a ban as “serious interference with the right to freedom of religion.” They would not comment on the Cologne judgment on first request. They want to first consider the verdict, they said.

The judge’s decision is likely to provoke discussion. For years, policy and organizations struggling for a better integration of the Muslim population. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called to 2006 for the first time as a separate Islamic Conference. Former President Christian Wulff said: “Islam is part of Germany.” His successor, Joachim Gauck varied: “The Muslims who live here belong to Germany.” Some Muslims might interpret the Cologne verdict as a step backwards now.

Experts believe that more cases will now end up in court elsewhere. Finally, could the question of criminalization of religiously motivated circumcision will be well regulated by the Federal Constitutional Court.

In the case of Cologne, a Muslim doctor had performed on a four-year-old boy at the request of the parents have a circumcision. Two days later there was bleeding, the mother brought the boy in the children’s emergency room. The prosecutor became aware and indicted the circumciser. After the district court found the procedure to be legal, and she appealed. The district court evaluated him now as a “serious and irreversible impairment of physical integrity.”

This story was also reported in the New York Times: