German Invasion into the Sanctuary

From The Guardian:

What’s the solution to this? Have a medical doctor alongside the “cutter”?

Jewish and Muslim leaders were united on Wednesday in their condemnation of a German court’s decision to in effect outlaw the circumcision of boys after a judge deemed that the religious practice amounted to bodily harm.

Representatives of the two religious communities called the ruling insensitive and discriminatory, saying it was an attack on centuries of religious tradition.

A judge at a Cologne court said that the circumcision of minors went against a child’s interests because it led to a physical alteration of the body, and because people other than the child were determining its religious affiliation.

Religious leaders said the court had stepped into a minefield with its decision, which undermined their religious authority and contravened Germany‘s constitution.

Ali Demir, chairman of the Religious Community of Islam in Germany, said: “I find the ruling adversarial to the cause of integration and discriminatory against all the parties concerned.”

Dieter Graumann, president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, called it “an egregious and insensitive measure” which amounted to “an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in religious communities’ right of determination”.

The ruling followed a lengthy legal battle, sparked when a Muslim couple decided to have their son circumcised, specifically for religious reasons, by a Muslim doctor in Cologne. The doctor, identified only as Dr K, carried out the circumcision on the four-year old boy in November 2010, before giving the wound four stitches. The same evening, he visited the family at home to check up on the boy. When the boy began bleeding again two days later, his parents took him to the casualty department of Cologne’s University hospital. The hospital contacted the police, who then launched an investigation. The doctor was charged with bodily harm, and the case was taken to court.

While the court acquitted Dr. K on the grounds that he had not broken any law, it concluded that circumcision of minors for religious reasons should be outlawed, and that neither parental consent nor religious freedom justified the procedure. It ruled that in future doctors who carried out circumcisions should be punished.


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  • “and because people other than the child were determining its religious affiliation.”

    That’s what parents do. They raise their child in a faith and that faith includes practices that cannot be separated from the faith. Such a comment assumes that there is a neutral place to stand in reference to religion and parents must raise their child in that neutral place until they can objectively decide for themselves.

    Modernism is alive and well.

  • Tom F.

    Allan- things are not nearly so simple. For one, circumcision involves bodily harm. There’s no other way to put it. Maybe there is no long term damage: but this seems unlikely.

    Furthermore, most Western countries (that I know of) do not permit female circumcision on the exact grounds that this judge just mentioned.

    I’m not saying I love this decision. In fact, if you have a way to non-arbitrarily rule out female circumcision but not male, than I would love to hear it. But it seems to me like you either allow both or you disallow both. No fair making an exception for male just because it is much more mainstream. Religious liberty is a very tricky thing.

    On the other hand, circumcision does reduce the transmission of AIDS. Maybe that’s enough to preserve male circumcision. Still, it has to be admitted that this is much trickier than it seems.

  • Tom,

    But what we are speaking of here is male circumcision. And yes, religious liberty is very tricky, but you better have all your ducks in a row before you outlaw a religious practice that is a core practice of a religion and has been so for at least a millennium.

    What I was objecting to was the quote in the article which assumes that parents should not determine their children’s faith. It’s an absurd assertion.

  • Well, at least Isaac and Ismael are getting along in this one area.

  • Damien

    I believe that the ruling recognized that parents have the right to educate their child and communicate their beliefs to him and balanced it against the right to bodily integrity, concluding that it would not be an undue burden on parents to have to wait until the child could give informed consent. I don’t think there is any suggestion that parents must provide a religiously neutral education to their children, which would indeed be absurd.

    Tom’s parallel with FGM is relevant and shows that a line must be drawn somewhere. Clearly, parents are not allowed to chop off whatever body part that their religion or culture considers must be cut off, even if they believe that it is their sacred duty or that horrible things will happen if they don’t. It seems natural that the presumption should be that the child’s body should not be irreversibly modified, especially when the child could be given the opportunity to decide for themselves at a later stage.

    As believers, we may be convinced that circumcision is permitted because it has been specifically authorized by divine decree , but revelation is not the kind of legislation that secular courts are allowed to use to reach a decision, and changing would be a far greater threat to religious freedom than the current ruling.

  • Patrick

    Circumcision is very healthy, check out the transmission of AIDS in Africa with and w/o circumcision, they’ve kept records.

    Solution? Just find a better place to live than Germany.

    Using today’s aggressive atheist logic, the Christian faith leads to all sorts of problems, so from that angle all pagan states need to stop it’s practice. Christianity is far more troublesome than circumcision to atheists.

  • JohnM

    Patrick #6 – A better place to live….THAN GERMANY!? American progressivists will sputter out a response as soon as they scrape themselves off the ceiling. 🙂

  • DRT

    Scot asked “What’s the solution to this? Have a medical doctor alongside the “cutter”?”

    But even doctors who do it will be punished.

    Yes, there is a line drawing problem here, and the German judge went over the line. Botched circumcisions are harmful, not well executed ones.

  • Fish

    How is this any different than female circumcision? Do parents have an unlimited right to surgically alter their children because their deity tells them to do it?

    If they do have a right, but that right has limits, what are those limits? Do they involve the age of the religion, the number of people who follow it, or the how deeply that religion is embedded in a country’s culture?

  • Tom F.

    Allan- if you are objecting to parents not being allowed to instruct their children, than I agree. Actually the right of parents to educate children religiously and for children to freely choose their religion is recognized by the UN. In fact, children have a right to religious and spiritual guidance, so NOT providing this is indeed to violate children’s rights.

    Patrick- circumcision to prevent AIDS is a mixed bag, it seems likely to me that circumcision is harmful to babies (just look at how they respond to it), but you’re right, it does have that benefit (and I pointed this out).

    But to justify it along these lines is actually to admit that the religious liberty principle is not enough, and such a drastic action on an infant must be justified along public health lines. So, if AIDS were to be cured, would there still be a reason to be circumcised?

    Theologically, it is clear that circumcision was something God considered very important for a long time (though is clearly NOT required for Gentile Christians). However, today, we have to be consistent with religious liberty, otherwise, when Christian’s ask for exemptions on religious liberty grounds, we are likely to seem hypocritical. Integrity requires that the liberties we allow ourselves be allowed to others, and the liberties that we deny to others we deny ourselves. So I can’t seem to figure out a way to ban as child abuse female circumcision but allow male circumcision, apart from the public health claim that could easily disappear as health technology advances.

  • Tom F.

    A clarifying thought: I don’t necessarily feel like crusading against male circumcision. That’s not my concern here. I think a legitimate and consistent response would be to allow female circumcision (perhaps regulated by doctors or some such thing).

  • JHM

    Tom F.,

    I could be wrong (I’m no M.D.) but I’ve never heard of any adverse long-term damage from male circumcision (outside of botched ones of course) but my understanding is that female circumcision does often cause long-term damage, is more invasive, and is performed much later in life. They seem very different to me.

  • Tom F.

    JHM- Well, I think medically speaking, you are probably correct. In fact, female circumcision has far, far worse health consequences (after reviewing myself the extent of what is involved. So much so, that I retract my suggestion that it would be okay to permit both male and female circumcision.)

    But legally, this is not necessarily material: in the most likely scenario, suppose it could be shown conclusively that male circumcision was only somewhat harmful (perhaps leading to lessened sexual sensitivity). Should parents be allowed to preform a medical operation that has only minor permanent health effects (but that are nonetheless permanent and irreversible) on their infants (or in this case; a 4-year old boy?) It would still be a difficult case to make, in the absence of other factors like public health claims. We generally don’t allow parents to permanently physically harm their children, even if the effect is minor in the scheme of things.

    Anyway, good point, and I may have been overstating the case a little bit, even as I think this is still a serious dilemma from a religious liberty point of view.

  • metanoia

    1, There is a whale of a difference between male and female circumcision. 2. Circumcision for a Jew is a sign of the covenant ordain ed of God. I’m a bit surprised at the lack of undertanding reflected by most of these comments.

  • EricW

    Female circumcision is done solely to destroy a woman’s ability to become aroused sexually. It is misogyny and patriarchy gone psycho. Male circumcision has religious roots and causes little if any damage to a male’s ability to enjoy sex. The two don’t even belong in the same sentence together.

  • Patrick

    It’s shocking to me educated humans would equate female and male circumcision.

    Babies react to male circumcision? I bet they do to shots they need and to PKU blood tests, physical pain isn’t necessarily evidence of evil, have an operation that saves your life, it is going to be painful.

  • Mike M

    Mutilation is mutilation. Forced violence on an innocent victim is criminal. Why cannot either side wait until an ability to decide for one’s self is reached? Some Christian denominations won’t baptize until a person decides on his or her own to accept a personal relationship with Jesus. As far as we know, both John & Jesus baptized willing adults (who knows, though: “adult” may have meant a 13-year old).
    Do we know if Jesus was an infant when he got circumcised? Were Ishmael and Isaac?
    And as a physician, I refused to learn circumcision in residency. I also refused to learn how to perform an abortion. I did learn, however, how to treat surgically-induced staph infections and sepsis, both consequences of circumcision and any other wanted or unwanted surgery.

  • EricW

    Mike M wrote:

    Do we know if Jesus was an infant when he got circumcised?

    Uh…. yeah.

    Luke 2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (New Revised Standard Version)

    2:21 Καὶ ὅτε ἐπλήσθησαν ἡμέραι ὀκτὼ τοῦ περιτεμεῖν αὐτὸν καὶ ἐκλήθη τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦς, τὸ κληθὲν ὑπὸ τοῦ ἀγγέλου πρὸ τοῦ συλλημφθῆναι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ. (Nestle-Aland 27th Edition)

    (There are no listed textual variants that affect the meaning of the NA-27 text as shown above.)

    Also see re: John the Baptist:

    Luke 1:59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. (NRSV)

    Luke 1:59 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῇ ✕ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ὀγδόῃ ἦλθον περιτεμεῖν τὸ παιδίον καὶ ἐκάλουν αὐτὸ ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζαχαρίαν. (NA-27)

  • EricW

    As for Ishmael and Isaac, Ishmael was already 13 years old when God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision:

    Genesis 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”

    9 God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 Throughout your generations every male among you shall be circumcised when he is eight days old, including the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring. 13 Both the slave born in your house and the one bought with your money must be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in your sight!” 19 God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. 20 As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this season next year.” 22 And when he had finished talking with him, God went up from Abraham.

    23 Then Abraham took his son Ishmael and all the slaves born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him. 24 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And his son Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised; 27 and all the men of his house, slaves born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. (NRSV)

    As for Isaac, who was not yet born:

    Genesis 21:1 The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. 2 Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. (NRSV)

  • EricW

    Mike M says:

    Mutilation is mutilation. Forced violence on an innocent victim is criminal.

    God/YHWH is the one who “forces” Jews to circumcise their eight-day-old males. So are you charging God with being a criminal?

  • Jawbone

    So the difference between being allowed and not allowed to surgically alter a child’s body comes down to how harmful the operation is? Many people function just fine without a finger – would that be OK? Or an ear?

    The point is not the amount of damage done. The point is giving parents have permission to cut off part of a child’s body for religious purposes, whether it does harm or not.

    God doesn’t force anyone to cut anyone. That comes from a book, taken to be God by a segment of the population. I seriously doubt that if God showed up at the local maternity ward this evening, He’d command the nurses to starting cutting babies. Circumcision sounds to me like either a hallmark of an ancient culture or a legalism or both.

  • Holly

    Has anyone ever seen an older male go thru circumcision and the healing process? It’s….not so much fun the older one gets. Much better to be done when tiny and there’s no memory of it. I’m not unsympathetic – I’ve held and loved and nursed six sons thru it. It *is* tough on little boys for a couple of days. That’s all, though…and there is numbing cream and medicine to help these days.

    I wonder if Germany will also outlaw pierced ears for little girls? I see that all of the time, and wonder why parents make that choice for their children.

  • Mike M

    That answers my questions but doesn’t make it right. Yes, I am questioning God. Long tradition of that, starting with… Abraham.

  • T

    On a serious note: this is a troubling ruling and it shows how aggressive and deep anti-religious thought is in Europe, and seems to be growing. For all kinds of reasons, while female “circumcision” is seemingly analogous, it is a totally different ballgame, both physically, historically, etc., etc.

    On a not so serious note, for the folks who see every kind of circumcision as mutilation, can we forbid parents from allowing children to get their ears pierced? Mutilation is mutilation is mutilation. What about consent to play sports in which injuries are likely if played over the course of minority? Harm is harm is harm. I think we do have to draw lines, but I think the “harm” of male circumcision is a pretty small prize for the steep price to religious and parental freedom here.

  • DRT

    Folks, losing a foreskin is really not a whole lot of harm. Ear piercings, poor diet, injuries while playing, ironing board accidents, unsupervised trampolines…. People need to get a spine about things like this.

    My parents got me my first motorcycle in 6th grade. Now, how many of you think that probably led to more harm than someone getting a circumcision? It did. A lot more. And I would not trade it for anything.

  • DRT

    Jawbone, the point is NOT allowing people to cut off parts of their children. If someone were to make up a new religion now and demand the pinky toe of all the kids then that should be stopped. But we have thousands of years of tradition and personal taste here against something that is not very harmful at its worst and beneficial at its best.

    Sometimes we need to grandfather things in and live with them. The purity police are working on overtime on this one.

  • JohnM

    DRT #25 & #26 – Some good points.

    Support for German court’s decision appears to involve the odd bedfellows of a radical individualism which holds that parents should defer all decisions involving the child to the child’s individual choice, and a statist view that maintains there is nothing regarding which anyone can say to the state “that is none of your business”.

  • My mind boggled and my body quailed at the linking between circumcision of boys and of female genital mutilation (euphemistically called “female circumcision”) in girls by some of the commenters, above. Look it up, folks. The UN has documents on FGM, as does the WHO. Circumcision of males should never be compared w/ the scraping mutilation, removal of the clitoris &/or labia, &/or sewing a woman’s vagina nearly closed. (Now, I wonder if Patheos will post this comment, since I used the anatomically correct terms!)

  • The logic of the ruling is that the decision forces upon the child a (medically unnecessary) permanent change to their physical body prior to their capacity to give informed consent. The unstated assumption that the courts are making is that physical well-being is absolute and primary, whereas other factors, such as spirituality and religion, are secondary. So there is an implicit value judgment at play here.

    For many of these parents, such a choice is equally (or perhaps more primarily) important as receiving life-saving medical attention for illness or injury. The ruling tells them that their religious beliefs are secondary to the legal rights on the individual. However, it is hard not to concede that this a logical decision for the legal system (though I am not yet suggesting it is the right one). After all, we (rightly) insist on a separation of church and state, requiring that the court system rule upon that which they have purview. When a child is denied treatment for illness or injury on religious grounds, I suspect most of us would be divided.

    In such settings, it is natural to attempt draw parallels with other circumstances, such a female genital mutilation (please, let us stop giving it a modicum of legitimacy and call it what it is). It is not a fair comparison to present FGM as a female equivalent to male circumcision. That point does not, ipso facto, mean that male circumcision is acceptable, only that it is an unhelpful and inaccurate comparison.

    My point in all of this is that this issue is very complex. We cannot characterize the German court as some secularizing force bent on subvert religious freedom. I think a fair assessment can demonstrate that, right or wrong in their ruling, this is not their intent. Neither can we dismiss those in favour of the freedom to circumcise their son as mutilating abusers. The adversarial posture of this argument is unlikely to produce a helpful solution.

  • Patrick


    The court then in this case is forcing a pagan state’s views on the infant. Both health and religion in this case are being violated by the court.

    Phooey on any state with that power. Including this one I live under in the US.