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German Circumcision Foes Will Fight All the Way to the Supreme Court

August 21st, 2012 - 12:56 pm

If Germany’s political leadership brings legislation to protect the right of Jews and Muslim to circumcise boys, opponents of the rite will fight all the way to the country’s Constitutional Court, the equivalent of America’s Supreme Court, Thomas Pany reports in the German news site Telepolis reports. Opponents of circumcision instigated a legal precedent for a constitutional case by filing charges against a German rabbi in the Bavarian town of Hof. According to Telepolis:

The debate over the legality of circumcision will be pursued further in Germany. It is conceivable that it will be brought all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court at Karlsruhe. If the govenrment brings legislation this fall declaring that infant circumcision is permissible–as a large majority of German parliamentarians seems to wish–provided that it is done with “medical competence and without unnecessary pain”–than it is likely that suit will be brought before the Constitutional court to annul the legislation.

Circumcision opponents are now positioning for standing before the Constitutional Court.

Bavarian Radio (Bayerische Rundfunk) reported today that the the rabbi of  Hof has been accused of assault for performing circumcisions in a complaint brought to the state prosecutor’s office by a local doctor. The doctor was one of six hundred physicians and lawyers who signed a petition against circumcision following the June 27 decision of a provincial court in Cologne defining the religious ritual as “grievous bodily harm.” The last circumcision performed by the rabbi in question occurred years ago, according to the radio station, and the doctor’s complaint appears designed to create legal standing for a future complaint before the countyr’s Constitutional court. Bavarian radio reports that the local district attorney has not yet stated whether criminal proceedings will be brought against the rabbi. Under German law, prosecution–if it occurs–would begin with an Ermittlungsverfahren, that is, a preliminary hearing. The Times of Israel carried a misleading report suggesting that the state prosecutor had already decided to pursue the complaint, and Commentary’s website repeated the inaccuracy.

In an Aug. 9 essay at Tablet, the Jewish webzine, I reported on the campaign by a broad array of German institutions to ban  circumcision, despite the support of the country’s political leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel:

Merkel has the backing of the leadership of all of the country’s political parties, but her defense of circumcision met a groundswell of protest from German medical and child welfare organizations. Germany’s Child Protection Society (Kinderhilfe) denounced the ritual as “a blank check for religiously motivated child abuse.” The head of the German Academy for Pediatric Medicine, Wolfram Hartmann, warned on July 17, in response to Merkel’s statement, that circumcision causes “lifelong bodily and above spiritual [sic] injury.” Two days later, a spokesman for Germany’s Humanist Association dismissed circumcision as “a relic of times long gone” and demanded that Jews consign the practice to the dust-heap of history, along with corporal punishment of children. Six-hundred German physicians and lawyers signed an open letter to Merkel published July 21, proclaiming that “religious freedom cannot be a charter for violence,” and asserting that circumcision violates the “right of children to bodily integrity and sexual self-determination.”

It is hard to recall an issue that has called forth such fury from German civil society in recent years. And it is far from over. The effect of the court’s ruling can already be felt beyond Germany’s borders; copycat bans on brit milah have emerged in neighboring countries, including Switzerland and Austria. On July 23, two Swiss hospitals announced that they would abstain from performing circumcisions because they were “evaluating the legal and ethical stance in Switzerland,” a spokesman for a Zurich hospital said. A day later, the chief executive of Austria’s Vorarlberg province, Markus Wallner, told regional hospitals to refrain from circumcision for religious reasons “until the legal situation had been clarified” following the Cologne court’s decision. (Wallner backtracked a week later, after Austria’s justice minister declared that parents could not be punished for circumcising infants.)

The reasoning of the German anti-circumcision crusade, I argued, is especially disturbing:

The uproar over circumcision barely conceals a revulsion at the concept of the sacred in all its forms. The German court replaces the Jewish and Christian belief in sanctity of human life and the human body with a perverse concept of rights deriving from bodily proprietorship. In this brave new world, it is legal to bring your grandmother to a Zurich hospital to be euthanized but criminal to bring a newborn boy to be circumcised. It is doubly perverse because the West first learned of human rights, and the rights of newborns in particular, from the Jews. Banish the source of these rights and the notion of rights will eventually turn into a twisted mockery…Erase the line between what is sacred and what is merely utilitarian, and there is nothing in principle to prevent us from subjecting low-value (minderwertig) life to the cost-benefit analysis of the killers. That German physicians and attorneys campaign with such bitter determination to uproot the source of the sacred—the Jewish concept of covenant—from German society is downright chilling. Don’t they remember?

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