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May 29, 2017

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Controversial circumcision ruling rages on in Germany

BERLIN -- A German court decision branding the Muslim and Jewish rite of circumcising baby boys a criminal act has left disbelief, outrage and serious legal questions in its wake.

A cartoon in Sunday's edition of Berlin daily Tagesspiegel cast the dispute over the ruling published last month as a high-stakes struggle between religious beliefs and European secular values.

Sitting on a cloud, God reads about the Cologne court's judgment then telephones Allah and Jehovah, saying: "We've got to talk — the atheists are getting more and more full of themselves."

The ruling said circumcision of male infants on religious grounds was tantamount to grievous bodily harm, a criminal act.

It concerned a case brought against a doctor who had circumcised a 4-year-old Muslim boy in line with his parents' wishes.

When, a few days after the operation, the boy suffered heavy bleeding, prosecutors charged the doctor.

The court later acquitted the doctor himself of causing harm but judged that "the right of a child to keep his physical integrity trumps the rights of parents" to observe their religion, potentially setting a precedent.

European Muslim and Jewish groups have banded together to criticize the ruling, with the support of top Christian clerics, and called on German MPs to pass legislation protecting the practice.

A recent poll on the issue shows that 56 percent of Germans agree with the court — among them Georg Ehrmann, president of German children's charity Deutsche Kinderhilfe.

"Religious communities should share in the consensus that a minor should have the right to an undamaged childhood," he said.

But 35 percent of people believe the ruling is wrong.

This clash of cultures, known as "kulturkampf" in German, has filled column inches in recent days.

And German diplomats admit the decision has been "disastrous" for the image of the country abroad, amid international outcry over the ruling.

"The Cologne ruling is very troubling to us since circumcision is one of the rites Jews died for over generations," Israeli Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger said.

"I am very concerned we will revert back to 500-600 years ago and conduct circumcisions in secret. I hope the issue will be resolved in Germany through legislation."

Israeli Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein told AFP that "from the Jewish perspective, a circumcision ban is the most severe prohibition possible," compared to other bans such as on ritual slaughter.

"If we let this pass (in Germany), there will be no way to stop it from spreading to other European states."

Edelstein, however, noted the "positive potential" to the ruling as it applies to Muslims and Jews alike.

"It could happen that joint action on this could do something to bring the two communities closer, and possibly prevent anti-Semitism from extreme Islamist elements."

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