The regional court in the western city of Cologne ruled on Tuesday that child circumcision constituted "illegal bodily harm," even with parental consent. In the verdict, the court said that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents."
The case came about after a four-year-old Muslim boy's circumcision led to complications, and he checked back into hospital days later with severe bleeding. Prosecutors then charged the physician - identified under German media practices only as Dr. K. - who carried out the operation at the parents' request with grievous bodily harm.
The court acquitted the doctor, however, saying that he did not know the procedure was illegal so it would have been a miscarriage of justice to sentence him. This verdict, unless it is overturned at appeal in a higher court, would likely serve as precedent in future cases, making future guilty verdicts possible.
"A child's body is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision," the court said. "This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later about his own religious affiliation."
Jewish group says verdict attacks religious freedom
Dieter Graumann, the president of the German Central Council of Jews, said the verdict was "an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in religious communities' right to self-determination." The book of Genesis instructs believers that men should be circumcised.
"Circumcision of newborn boys is a fixed part of the Jewish religion and has been practiced worldwide for centuries," Graumann said. "This religious right is respected in every part of the world."
He called on the government to clarify Tuesday's ruling and to protect religious freedom from attack.
The World Health Organization estimates that roughly one-third of men in the world are circumcised. Many are Muslims or Jews circumcised for religious reasons, but some parents also choose to circumcise their boys on health and hygiene grounds. The court also said that circumcision on medical grounds was not illegal.
msh/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)