With a speed not often seen in this legislative period, the German cabinet has approved a new bill that would allow ritual circumcision on young boys, just three months after a Cologne regional court ruled against the practice.
Under the new bill, male circumcision would remain legal if parents give their consent and the operation is done following "the rules of medical science." An important part of the new bill stresses the fact that circumcision would only be carried out with parental consent, making the practice legally separate from an act that causes bodily harm. In addition, the bill would also put an end to the criminalization of Jews and Muslims.
A necessary and pragmatic settlement
But Wednesday's circumcision ruling is not just an answer to a specific legal question. Rather, it's about a conflict of values in a pluralistic society - a conflict between the secular norms of a democratic state and the laws and rituals of its various religious communities. The circumcision debate showed that such conflicts require sensitivity and pragmatism.
The circumcision conflict led to a controversial public debate in recent months, a debate that threatened to get out of hand. Some old and ugly stereotypes concerning Jews and Muslims were revived, and a widespread form of religious illiteracy was laid bare in German society.
Circumcision should not be made illegal
The debate over male circumcision also made waves because it suddenly raised the question as to whether the Jewish and Muslim lifestyle was possible in Germany, or even welcome. That's why the federal government needed to act quickly and give the practice legal legitimacy.
But despite the very reasonable and pragmatic ruling, the debate on the necessity and legitimacy of ritual circumcision will not come to an end. But the legally guaranteed right will at least ensure one thing, that religious circumcision is not pushed into illegality. To allow that to happen would be both irresponsible and not in the interest of the child.