Responding to intense international pressure from Jewish and Muslim groups alike, Germany on Thursday moved to send a signal that the country will continue to allow the tradition of circumcision for boys despite a court ruling that critics said could make Jewish life in Germany impossible.
In recent days, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Germany would become a laughing stock for the rest of the world if it allowed any ban on the circumcision of boys to stand. During a special session of parliament convened on Thursday to provide German approval for a European Union bailout of Spain's banks, the Bundestag also passed a resolution endorsing the right of Muslim and Jewish parents to have their sons circumcised.
The resolution is not legally binding, but it was passed to send a message to religious communities in Germany and abroad that a controversial June court ruling would not be allowed to stand.
Three weeks ago, a Cologne regional court ruled in a case involving a Muslim boy that the child's circumcision had been tantamount to bodily injury and was therefore a punishable crime. The decision drew immediate criticism from Muslim and Jewish groups in Germany. One prominent rabbi described the ruling as the worst attack on Jewish culture in Germany since the Holocaust and warned that Jewish life would no longer be possible in Germany if the ruling became a precedent.
Government Expected to Draft Law in Fall
In light of the country's World War II history, politicians in Berlin on Thursday sought to calm the growing storm. In the resolution, they 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."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) welcomed the vote, saying it would be difficult for him to defend abroad any incursion into the religious right to circumcision.
Günter Krings, a senior member of Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in parliament, said the vote sent a clear message that Germany would not make life unnecessarily complicated for Jews or Muslims living in the country.
The co-head of Germany's opposition Green Party also supported the measure. "A circumcision ban would disregard and ostracize long cultural and religious traditions that are part of Jewish and Muslim life," said Claudia Roth, who called for expedited legislation ensuring that circumcision remains legal.
Child Rights Groups Oppose Quick Law
But not all were pleased by the decision, including the Federation of German Criminal Police (BDK). "Our constitution cannot be limited by a simple law, as parliament is currently trying to do in panic," BDK chief André Schulz told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper. "The freedom of parents to practice religion will nevertheless be limited by a child's more important right to physical integrity."
Meanwhile, a group of child-protective organizations has also issued a petition calling for a two-year delay on any new law on circumcision so that the issue could be debated more intensely by experts. The groups include the BDK as well as Deutsche Kinderhilfe (German Children's Aid) and the German Association of Physicians in Child and Adolescent Medicine. In the petition, they warn that a working group should be created before taking any legal steps that could permit the "serious and irreparable intrusion on the physical integrity of a child." The petition claims that complications arise in 10 percent of circumcision cases.
In Germany, public opinion is mixed over circumcision. A survey conducted this week by pollster YouGov for the German news agency DPA found that 45 percent of Germans support a ban on circumcision of boys, whereas 42 percent were opposed to it and 13 percent undecided. Fifty-five percent said they did not believe a national ban on circumcision would damage Germany's image abroad, compared to 33 percent who thought it would.