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Surprising Science

German Court Criminalizes Circumcision, Debate Erupts

A German court has effectively criminalized male circumcision, and while the ruling is not binding on any other body, debate over religious and individual freedom has erupted. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A decision handed down by a German court two weeks ago, in which a judge ruled that circumcision constitutes bodily harm and is therefore punishable under criminal law, has sparked a debate among religious groups and other activists. Though the ruling involved a Muslim boy and has no bearing on other legal cases, the specter of religious intolerance has been raised by the Conference of European Rabbis, calling the decision the “worst attack on Jewish life since the Holocaust.” Members of the German government have tried to calm opponents of the ruling, including the state of Israel, by emphasizing that the decision is not legally binding on other courts. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Issues of religious and individual freedom surround the circumcision controversy. While the Muslim and Jewish faiths consider the practice a rite, others see the procedure as a medically unnecessary and painful experience that, like female circumcision, the state should put a stop to. Last week, the New York Times hosted an online debate explaining the various sides to this cultural impasse: Perhaps 16 should be given as age for circumcision consent; Whether the procedure is medically necessarily depends on where it is done, e.g. Africa; The state should neither require nor forbid religious procedures…

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