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German to protect religious circumcision

Berlin -

The German government on Friday pledged quick action to protect the right of Jews and Muslims to circumcise baby boys on religious grounds, after a court ruling that prompted international outcry.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Sebastien Pirlet. Credit: REUTERS

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters it was “concerned” about the judgement published by a Cologne regional court last month calling the religious rite of circumcision a criminal act.

“It is absolutely clear to the federal government that we want Jewish, we want Muslim religious life in Germany. Circumcisions carried out in a responsible way must not be subject to prosecution in this country,” he said.

“It is urgently necessary that we establish legal certainty.”

He said that aides from Merkel's office would now discuss with the relevant government ministries ways to put the rite on firm legal footing.

“It is clear this cannot be put on the back burner. Freedom to practice religion is a cherished legal principle,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the justice ministry said that there were three options for new draft laws to protect circumcisions on religious grounds that were under “intensive” review.

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

It concerned a case brought against a doctor who had circumcised a four-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 legal precedent.

German diplomats admit that the ruling has proved “disastrous” to the country's image abroad, particularly in light of its Nazi past, following uproar from officials in Israel as well as Muslim countries.

European Muslim and Jewish groups banded together this week to criticise the ruling and called on German MPs to pass legislation protecting the practice. - Sapa-AFP

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