On Wednesday, the city of Berlin, together with its state, granted Jews and Muslims legal protection for religious circumcision, partially reversing a controversial, borderline anti-Semitic ban passed earlier this summer in the city of Cologne.
According to reports, Justice Minister Thomas Heilmann said that Jews and Muslims are welcome in Berlin and may freely practice their religions. However, he qualified his statement laying down several guidelines regarding circumcisions. A judge in Cologne banned circumcisions in June of this year, calling it “illegal bodily harm” and saying that it should only be performed on adults and only with expressed consent.
The case that caused the ban was a 4 year old Muslim boy whose circumcision was performed incorrectly and caused bodily harm and health problems. That ban lead to a panic in which doctors refused to perform circumcisions because of possible legal action. In August, a Rabbi who performed a circumcision was subjected to a police investigation after a doctor in Bavaria filed a police report in protest.
In his statement, Heilmann said that doctors would be the only individuals allowed to perform circumcisions. Circumcisions would have to be performed in a sterile environment and must be done when the child is too young to decide for himself. In addition, pain must be minimal. Parents must give their consent and must be told of all of the possible health risks. Heilmann said that parents would have to prove they are Jewish or Muslim.
Since the June ban that affected only the Cologne region, a raging debate regarding religious freedom, circumcisions and individual rights has ensued. However, the ban also sparked a massive international outcry that led to charges of Nazism. Because of the outcry and accusations, as well as a campaign by the ADL and other Jewish and Muslim organizations, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel had to intervene, citing Germany’s past intolerance for Jews, Holocaust and woefully poor record of protecting minority rights. This in turn has led to the Reichstag drafting a new law protecting religious freedom that is expected to be passed in the next several months.