Threat to circumcision grows in Europe

Fears that a court ruling in Germany last month criminalising religious circumcision would have a knock-on effect across Europe are slowly being realised.

This week, the governor of Vorarlberg, an Austrian province, told state-run hospitals to suspend religious circumcisions until the legal situation in the country is clarified.

Governor Markus Wallner’s instruction came in the wake of the Cologne court ruling that the practice amounted to causing bodily harm.

The German district judge came to the decision in the case of a young Muslim boy who suffered medical complications following a ritual circumcision.

Mr Wallner referred to his own instruction to Vorarlberg doctors as a “precedent-setting judgment”, although it will not affect religious circumcisions performed outside Vorarlberg.

Muslims will be most affected by the decision, since they make up 8.4 per cent of the population of the province.

Last week, two hospitals in Switzerland, the Zurich University Children’s Hospital and the northern St Gall teaching hospital, also announced that they were suspending religious circumcision until further notice.
Marco Stuecheli, a spokesman for the children’s hospital, told Haaretz: “We are in the process of evaluating the legal and ethical stance in Switzerland.”

The Bundesverfassungsgericht, Berlin’s Federal Constitutional Court, has yet to rule on whether or not ritual circumcision is protected under the principle of religious freedom in Germany.
The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) has said that it will lobby European parliaments for specific legislation supporting religious circumcision.

Last week, the German lower house passed a resolution to protect the religious circumcision of infant boys after the Cologne court ruled that it was a crime, and Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany would become “a laughing stock” if it fails to overturn the ruling.

The CER hopes that other European countries can be persuaded to respond to the legal challenge in the same way as the German parliament has done.

CER President Pinchas Goldschmidt said: “We must send out the clearest possible message that campaigners against infant circumcision are themselves threatening the human rights of our children.”

Rabbi Marcel Ebel of Zurich has confirmed that he is in touch with the Swiss government and is confident that brit milah will be protected.

Vienna’s chief rabbi, Chaim Eisenberg, said: “We are working with the government and hope to achieve a commitment for developing specific legislation, perhaps in the form of an amendment to the recently-passed ‘Israeliten Gesetz’. This deals with the relationship between the Jewish community and the Austrian state, which specifically supports the right to carry out religious circumcision”.

Last updated: 11:36am, July 26 2012