A judge at a Cologne court said that the circumcision of minors went against a child's interests because it led to a physical alteration of the body, and because people other than the child were determining its religious affiliation.
Religious leaders said the court had stepped into a minefield with its decision, which undermined their religious authority and contravened Germany's constitution.
Ali Demir, chairman of the Religious Community of Islam in Germany, said: "I find the ruling adversarial to the cause of integration and discriminatory against all the parties concerned."
Dieter Graumann, president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, called it "an egregious and insensitive measure" which amounted to "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in religious communities' right of determination."
The ruling followed a lengthy legal battle, sparked when a Muslim couple decided to have their son circumcised, specifically for religious reasons, by a Muslim doctor in Cologne. The doctor, identified only as Dr K, carried out the circumcision on the four-year old boy in November 2010, before giving the wound four stitches. The same evening, he visited the family at home to check up on the boy. When the boy began bleeding again two days later, his parents took him to the casualty department of Cologne's University hospital. The hospital contacted the police, who then launched an investigation. The doctor was charged with bodily harm, and the case was taken to court.
While the court acquitted Dr. K on the grounds that he had not broken any law, it concluded that circumcision of minors for religious reasons should be outlawed, and that neither parental consent nor religious freedom justified the procedure. It ruled that in future doctors who carried out circumcisions should be punished.
The court weighed up three articles from the basic law: the rights of parents, the freedom of religious practice and the right of the child to physical integrity, before coming to the conclusion that the procedure was not in the interests of the child.
It rejected the defence that circumcision is considered hygienic in many cultures, one of the main reasons it is carried out in the US, Britain and in Germany.
After much deliberation, it concluded that a circumcision, "even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent."
Image: The German flag, via Shutterstock.