Religious group urge Merkel to ax circumcision ban

A boy cries as he is circumcised at Birtraria Hospital in Algiers September 5, 2010. Muslim boys aged between 2 - 5 years old are commonly circumcised a day before Laylat Al Qadr (the holiest night of Ramadan), as part of a religious tradition in Algeria (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)
“A stain on modern Germany” is how a US-based Jewish lobby group has classified German legislation that prevents circumcision. A German court ruling against non-medical circumcision sparked religious ire with calls to overturn the decision.

­The Wiesenthal Center called on Chancellor Merkel on Thursday to reverse the court ruling banning circumcision. They called it an attack on the fundamentals of Judaism that must be overturned.

The center is one of the world’s most influential Jewish human rights organizations, with over 400,000 member groups in the US.

"For 3,500 years, every male child has entered the Jewish people through the rite of circumcision. We are not talking about a mere custom, but a biblical principle that has defined the Jewish people from time immemorial," said Rabbis Marvin Hier, founder and Dean of the center in a letter to Chancellor Merkel.

Hier said that Jews maintained the practice of circumcision even when it was punishable by death under Stalin and Hitler.

He stressed that "since the defeat of Nazism, Germany has come a long way by guaranteeing religious freedom and democracy.” However, if the legislation stands “it would be a stain on today’s Germany.”

The scandal follows a German court case in which a judge in Cologne ruled against a doctor who circumcised a 4-year-old Muslim boy on his parents’ wishes.

There were complications after the operation and the boy had to be returned to the hospital. As a result, a court case was brought against the doctor accusing him of injuring the child.

He was eventually found not-guilty, but the court ruled that the circumcision of a child was a violation of Germany’s constitutional protection of bodily integrity. In this way, the German constitution prohibits circumcision for non-medical reasons, classifying it as a crime.

In response to the case there have been reports of clinics in Germany refusing to conduct the procedure for fear of the legal consequences.

The final ruling provoked the furor of both Muslim and Jewish religious groups, condemning it as discriminatory and "a serious interference in the right to freedom of religion."

The conclusions of the case was “a big blow against integration,” said spokesperson from the Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany Ali Kizilkaya.

Rights groups worry that the Cologne case could set a legal precedent in Germany and demand that the government introduce legislation that protects the right to circumcise boys for religious reasons.

"Germany is a state based on the rule of law where rights, in particular religious liberties, are very important and I think that a ban [on circumcision] would not be good for Germany or Germany's image and concept of rights," said Kizilkaya.