A court in Germany has ruled that circumcision on religious grounds amounts to bodily harm, making it potentially punishable by law. Sociologist of religion Rolf Schieder says this is an unacceptable move that questions the right to religious freedom
Upon first glance, the Cologne district court is correct: any medical intervention in the case of a child amounts to bodily harm in Germany. The same applies to the removal of a wart, just as it does to the removal of a boy’s foreskin. The state has both the right and the duty to assess whether the medical treatment carried out on the child is in the interests of that child. If for example the removal of a child’s tonsils is in the interests of the child’s welfare, then despite the fact that this is amounts to bodily harm, the actions of the doctor are justified.
As a rule, medical reasons are accepted as justification. So if the Muslim parents in Cologne had explained to the doctor that they wanted a circumcision for reasons of hygiene, the case would not have come as far through the courts as it eventually did.
Furthermore, until the Cologne district court ruling, the commonly-held view among lawyers competent in such religiously sensitive legal matters was that adherence to a religious tradition is an acceptable basis for justification. This was even the assumption of the first court to deal with the matter, the Cologne magistrates’ court.