Circumcising young boys for religious reasons amounts to grievous bodily harm, a German court has ruled.

The Cologne regional court ruled “the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents”, the Hamburg-based Financial Times Deutschland revealed.

It is the first time in Germany that a religious practice has been criminalised, the paper said. The judgement is expected to set a legal precedent, said The Telegraph.

The matter arose after a Muslim couple took their four-year-old son to be circumcised. The little boy was hospitalised several days later after experiencing heavy bleeding.

The doctor responsible for the circumcision was charged with grievous bodily harm, although later acquitted after a lower court ruled he had performed the operation with parental consent and thus had acted within the law.

The regional court also acquitted the doctor on appeal, but for different reasons. It ruled the doctor was innocent owing to the legal confusion around circumcision.

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The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, called the ruling "unprecedented and insensitive," and urged the country's parliament to clarify the legal situation "to protect religious freedom against attacks", AP reported.

Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg, vice president of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, told the Jewish Press: “The Court’s decision is unacceptable and gravely violates religious freedom.

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“The decision is contrary to human rights charter of the European Union, to which the German legal system is committed, and undermines the basic right to worship in the German Constitution.”

However Professor Holm Putzke, a law expert from Passau University in Germany said: “This ruling has enormous significance for doctors.

“For years there has been a call to ban circumcision for religious reasons. The court, as opposed to many politicians, was not afraid of criticism that its ruling was anti-Semitic or harmful to religion,” Haartez reported.

He added the decision “may not only influence future rulings, but also brings about a change in the worldview of religious people regarding the basic rights of children.”

The ruling specified circumcision was not illegal if carried out for medical reasons.


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