Is Male Circumcision a Criminal Offense?

After years of international campaigning against female genital mutilation (FGM), attention is now turning to the fact that the circumcision of boys, which is a religious precept both for Jews and Muslims, is also a form of “mutilation”. And obviously, what is wrong for one gender cannot be right for the other. After all, we live in the age of enlightenment and “gender equality,” don’t we??

No wonder, then, that the Landgericht Köln (Cologne High Court), found in a recent judgment that the circumcision of a young boy at the request of his parents was an illegal assault against the boy’s bodily integrity, which, in principle, constitutes a punishable crime. According to a report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of today, the Court abstained, however, from condemning the doctor who had performed the procedure, holding in his favour that he had not been aware of the illegality of what  he was doing.

Thus, the doctor was not punished. Future offenders, however, will not be able to rely on such clemency. 67 years after the Holocaust, Germany appears to be the first country in the world to prohibit circumcision.

P.S.: just the other day I read in First Things a commentary about Peter Singer’s views on how religious freedom should be interpreted. But even by Mr. Singer’s patently absurd standards, the Landgericht’s Decision seems deviant…

P.P.S: having looked at the decision, it seems to me that under a strictly positivistic interpretation it is not wrong. And after all, it is the role of judges to apply the law, isn’t it?

However, I also think it should be remembered that there have been Jewish communities living in German territory since the times of antiquity – even long before there was any such thing as “Germany.” They have always practised the rite of circumcision, and nobody has ever doubted their right to do so. To my best knowledge, not even the Nazis seem to have had that idea…

Ultimately, this is not about circumcision and bodily injury. It is about the question whether in contemporary society it is still possible to bring up children in the context of any particular cultural or religious tradition, be it Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, or whether any such education must be put off until the day when the child, at age 14 or 18, is old enough “to decide for itself.” But what can it decide for itself, if until that age it is not allowed to get acquainted with any such cultural heritage?

The judgment is thus a frightening sign of secularist intolerance. Whatever the positive law says, it is obvious that this cannot have been what the legislator had in mind.


J.C. von Krempach, J.D. originally wrote this article for Turtle Bay and Beyond, a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. It is sponsored by C-Fam, a non-partisan, non-profit research institute dedicated to reestablishing a proper understanding of international law, protecting national sovereignty and the dignity of the human person. You can visit Turtle Bay and Beyond at

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  • Pargontwin

    Gee, what are they going to do if the boy has a medical condition which requires circumcision?  (I can’t remember the name of it right now, but it’s a congenital deformity of the urethra, which circumcision usually corrects.)