German MPs vow to protect circumcision after court ban

BERLIN Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:36am EDT

Head of the Conference of European Rabbis Pinchas Goldschmidt (R) and Rabbi Avichai Apel address a news conference after a meeting in Berlin July 12, 2012. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz v

Head of the Conference of European Rabbis Pinchas Goldschmidt (R) and Rabbi Avichai Apel address a news conference after a meeting in Berlin July 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Tobias Schwarz v

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's lower house of parliament is set to pass a cross-party resolution on Thursday to protect the religious circumcision of baby boys after a district court ban on the practice outraged Muslims and Jews.

The main political parties have attacked the ruling by a Cologne court and conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has promised a new law to make clear doctors or families will not be punished for carrying out the procedure.

The speed with which lawmakers agreed on the terms of the motion underscored sensitivity to charges of intolerance in a country haunted by its Nazi past.

The draft resolution demands that "the government present a draft law in the autumn ... that guarantees that the circumcision of boys, carried out with medical expertise and without unnecessary pain, is permitted". The new law would overrule the Cologne decision.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a member of Merkel's Free Democratic (FDP) coalition partner, said Germany had a duty to protect religious customs and promote tolerance.

"The resolution shows that we live in a cosmopolitan and tolerant country," Westerwelle told reporters. "It would be inexplicable ... if Jewish citizens in Germany were not allowed to circumcise their boys."

Merkel has said Germany risked becoming a "laughing stock" if Jews are not allowed to practise their rituals.

"UNPRECEDENTED INTRUSION"

About 120,000 Jews are registered as living in Germany along with around 4 million Muslims, many of whom are from Turkey which has also criticized the court ruling.

Germany's Central Council of Jews described the Cologne ruling as an "unprecedented and dramatic intrusion" on religious freedom and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany called it a "blatant and inadmissible interference" in parents' rights.

However, a poll released on Thursday suggested almost half of Germans support a ban on the religious circumcision of boys. The YouGov survey showed 45 percent wanted to end the Islamic and Jewish tradition. About 42 percent were against a ban and 13 percent had no opinion.

The Cologne court, ruling in the case of a Muslim boy who suffered bleeding after circumcision, said the practice inflicted bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys, although it could be practised on older men with consent.

This is not acceptable under Jewish religious practice, which requires boys to be circumcised from eight days old, nor for many Muslims, for whom the age of circumcision varies according to family, country and tradition.

The cross-party resolution condemns other "damaging and immoral procedures" carried out on children and young people including female genital mutilation.

It will be rushed through in the same sitting as a vote on aid to Spain for which MPs were recalled from their holidays.

(Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)

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