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Religion

German parliament requests law approving circumcision

Politicians in Berlin have submitted a symbolic declaration calling for a law that would allow young boys to be circumcised for religious reasons, after a local court ruling prompted outrage among Muslims and Jews.

The formal request, called a "basic declaration" in the lower house of parliament, means that lawmakers must now draw up a draft law that would permit religious circumcisions in the next few months.

A broad majority of parliamentarians from three of the major parties in the Bundestag drafted the declaration, which demands "that a professional, medical circumcision of boys without any unnecessary pain is fundamentally permissible."

The chairman of the opposition Social Democrat party, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said politicians had to "challenge the Bundestag, to act now to dispel the insecurities that currently afflict religious groups, as well as doctors and parents."

In this Sunday, May 15, 2011 photo, Benjamin Abecassis rests on a pillow sounded by family members, immediately following his Bris, a Jewish circumcision ceremony in San Francisco.

Jewish and Muslim groups in Germany united in opposition of the verdict

A regional court in Cologne ruled late last month that circumcising young boys constituted irreparable bodily harm, saying in the ruling that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents."

The court said that boys should be able to decide on matters of religious affiliation themselves once they are older.

Pitting religious freedom against human rights

The case was prompted by a four-year-old Muslim boy whose circumcision led to complications, causing his parents to rush him to hospital with severe bleeding. Public prosecutors subsequently charged the physician who conducted the operation with grievous bodily harm. The court acquitted the doctor, saying that he didn't know the process was illegal and was acting on the parents' request. The judge also ruled, however, that the practice constituted illegal bodily harm and indicated that guilty verdicts might be possible in future cases.

The decision angered Muslim and Jewish groups in Germany, with both religions traditionally circumcising their children at a young age.

Circumcisions are also a popular practice for non-religious reasons, conducted on many boys around the world for health and hygiene reasons. The World Health Organization estimates that roughly one in three men are circumcised around the world.

Free Democrat politician Heiner Kamp was among the few parliamentarians to defend the court ruling on Thursday, saying childrens' rights to bodily integrity should trump religious convention.

"No religion can lay claim to permission to break this fundamental human right," Kamp said.

A recent survey of Germans by the Cologne-based YouGov research institute suggested that 45 percent of respondents supported a ban on circumcision, with 42 percent opposing the ruling and 13 percent professing no opinion.

msh/pfd (AFP, dpa, KNA)