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German Ruling 'Milestone' in Religious Freedom

Jewish groups have praised the decision by the German Parliament to allow religious circumcision.
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 12/13/2012, 7:27 PM

Brit milah (circumcision) ceremony (illustration)
Brit milah (circumcision) ceremony (illustration)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Jewish groups have praised the decision by the German Parliament to approve a law, by a vote of 434 to 100, with 46 abstentions, to allow religious circumcision.

"The Bundestag action is a welcome affirmation of Germany’s commitment to religious freedom," said Deidre Berger, director of American Jewish Committee's Berlin Office.

“Circumcision is critical to Jewish and Muslim religious life,” said Berger. “The German parliament’s action should put to rest reprehensible allegations that Jewish and Muslim religious upbringing violates children’s rights and endangers the welfare of children.” 

Wednesday's vote followed a prolonged public debate prompted by a local German court ruling in Cologne in June, which determined that circumcision is a criminally liable procedure. While having limited jurisdictional validity, the Cologne judgment sparked national and global controversy on the legal and medical consequences of circumcision. 

Berger, however, expressed concern regarding anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiments that surfaced during the heated debate. 
“Serious media in Germany quoted individuals who claimed on the basis of flawed medical evidence that Judaism and Islam are primitive and archaic religions," said Berger. "Some even outrageously depicted German Jewish and Muslim citizens as foreign elements in German society.” 

Berger praised the German government and parliament for their efforts “to counter a misguided local court ruling. The legislation is a victory for religious freedom and tolerance." 

“If there is something to be learned from the circumcision debate, it is that religious freedom and diversity are core principles of a vibrant democracy,” Berger added.

National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abraham H. Foxman called the ruling “a milestone in Germany's commitment to re-building Jewish life and to religious freedom."

In a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the ADL expressed appreciation for the vote in the Bundestag and the hope that the legislation will provide an example to other countries where religious freedom has come under threat.

"We look forward to holding up Germany as a model to be followed," Foxman wrote.