A selection of news relevant to EKD and of press releases of EKD's partner churches and church bodies. News used with permission from Ecumenical News International and other agencies.
Cologne Circumcision Decision sparks Controversy
Religious Associations and Churches call for Legal Certainty
June 28, 2012
The circumcision decision of the Cologne district court has sparked sharp criticism. Jewish and Islamic associations criticized the decision on Wednesday as an inadmissible interference in religious freedom. They called on the German federal parliament to guarantee legal certainty. The Evangelical Church in Germany and the Roman Catholic Church are also critical of the decision. Religious policy spokesman of the FDP (liberal) parliamentary group Stefan Ruppert underlined that the decision had created more unclarity than clarity regarding what was lawful. For the sake of good community relations, no lack of clarity could be tolerated on such a matter.
The Cologne district court had found the religious circumcision of a 4-year-old boy to be physical injury. The judges argued that religious circumcision was a lasting and irreparable intervention for the child. Circumcision was a "physical injury" regardless of the approval of the parents. The doctor charged with the offence was acquitted on the grounds that he had acted according to an "unavoidable prohibition error".
The Central Council of Muslims criticized that the ruling was "a blatant and inadmissible interference with parents' rights and the rights of religious communities to self-determination". It would increase uncertainty about the law among all parties. The Coordinating Council of Muslims in Germany saw the matter the same way. Its spokesman Ali Kizilkaya called the decision a "massive interference in religious freedom". The discussion it had sparked was a major setback to the integration of Muslims.
FDP politician Stefan Ruppert stressed that circumcision was part of the right of religious communities to self-determination. The ruling reached too far into religious freedom and the parents' right to bring up their children, criticized the trained lawyer. Pascal Kober, from the same party, underlined: "We must, as far as possible, create a safe legal framework that guarantees the exercise of religious freedom for Jews and Muslims."
Hans Michael Heinig, the head of the EKD's Institute for Church Law and an expert on constitutional law, called the finding "erroneous in terms of law, crime policy and religious policy". In an epd interview he posed the question: "What kind of signal will it send to Jews that in Germany, of all places, a criminal ban is placed on circumcision?" In terms of criminal policy it was pointless to charge the doctor. Forcing religious circumcision into illegality would introduce the threat of quacks, Heinig added.
Hans Ulrich Anke, the president of the EKD church office, said that the court had neglected to appropriately balance the freedom of religion and right of parents to raise and have custody for their children against the right to physical integrity. The decision therefore needed to be corrected as, in any case, there had to be legal certainty on this question in Germany. Anke: "Circumcision is of central religious significance for Jews and Muslims. The decision does not sufficiently consider this fact."
Criticism also comes from the Roman Catholic Church. Heinrich Mussinghoff, bishop of Aachen, called the decision "extremely disconcerting". With reference to the unrest the ruling had caused in the Jewish and Islamic community, he stated that legal clarity had to be restored as fast as possible and the undisturbed exercise of religious freedom guaranteed.
The Conference of Orthodox Rabbis reacted to the ruling with dismay. Circumcision was an essential part of Judaism. "Without the right to circumcision the right to religious freedom guaranteed by the German constitution is for Judaism just a matter of empty words."
The German Coordinating Council of Societies for Christian-Jewish Cooperation regards a prohibition of circumcision as unconstitutional. Criminalizing religious circumcision would amount to "declaring Jewish life in Germany to be fundamentally undesired", it warned.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany reacted promptly to the court decision. It called upon the German federal parliament to create legal certainty and protect religious freedom from attacks. In its view, the Cologne ruling constituted an unprecedented and dramatic interference in the right of religious communities to self-determination. The decision was an unspeakable and insensitive act, stated Dieter Graumann, the Central Council's president.
28 June 2012