On Monday, a district court in Cologne released a ruling making circumcision illegal in Germany’s most populous state. The court decision came after the case of a botched circumcision performed by a doctor on a Muslim boy in Cologne. In the aftermath, German authorities opted to press criminal charges against the doctor. The ruling claimed that freedom of religion and parental rights cannot justify the supposedly barbaric practice.
The court’s decision is likely to be well received by Germany, as 60% of Germans equate circumcision with genital mutilation. “Intactivists” are also likely to hail the criminalization of the controversial religious ritual, despite the fact that circumcision is a medically safe surgical procedure that is rarely botched and helps prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Man holds baby boy after the boy’s brit milah, a Jewish circumcision ritual.
This ruling will affect the religious rights of not only Jews in Germany but also Muslims, which number about 100,000 and 4 million respectively, who are commanded by their faiths to circumcise their young males. Even secular Jews and Muslims, more often than not, circumcise their children. Speaking to his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin, Head of German Parliament Norbert Lammert attempted to assuage Jewish worries about the law, saying, “it is a clash between law and freedom of religion, and I’m not worried yet because the German courts have not had the final word as of yet.”
The ancient practice of circumcision has been under attack in recent times throughout the Western World. This month, a Norwegian political party currently within the governing coalition, has made a ban on circumcision part of their agenda. And who can forget last year’s proposed ban in San Francisco, which failed to pass after anti-circumcision activists turned to anti-semitic propaganda to get their point across.
Restrictions on Jewish practices are reminiscent of the Nazi era, which also banned circumcision. It has been said that banning circumcision is a synonym for banning Judaism, and criminalization may cause doctors and even mohels to stop performing circumcisions out of fear. If Jews and Muslims cannot feel comfortable performing their ancient religious rituals in Germany, then they may go to a place where their religious practices will be respected–which may be exactly what the Germans want. It is also possible that circumcision bans, and bans on Jewish ritual slaughter, signal the early steps toward a less religiously tolerant society.