Bavarian Broadcast Network (Bayerischer Rundfunk)
June 29, 2012
"Protection from violence is more important than religious rites"Because of an article four years ago, he finds himself now seriously threatened: Professor Holm Putzke of the University of Passau speaks out against the circumcision of boys. The recent judgment of the District Court in Cologne rests on his findings. "It's really a question of postponing a religious act," he explains in an interview with BR.de.
BR.de: How do you view the judgment of the District Court in Cologne?
Holm Putzke: The judgment of the District Court in Cologne is correct. The court came to its conclusion, after an intensive analysis of the jurisprudential debate, that religious freedom ends where physical safety of children is irreparably impacted, in this case due to unnecessary and risky surgical procedures. It should be self-evident that we simply don't allow this in a society that emphasizes the protection of children from forceful or violent acts.
The District Court in Cologne determined that the circumcision of a minor boy for religious reasons in June 2012 was an injury. The judges argued that religious circumcision is a permanent and irreversible intrusion on the child. Jewish and Muslim groups criticized the decision as impermissible encroachment on the freedom of religion.
BR.de: What significance does it have?
Holm Putzke: It's a brave decision, because the wave of indignation was predictable and the climate of discussion almost always suffers when it comes to any criticism of religion. Despite the this ruling being non-binding on other courts or prosecutors, the ruling could send a signal and - more importantly - finally lead to a long-overdue public discussion.
BR.de: Isn't this a very western, and therefore one-sided, view of things?
Holm Putzke: It's not actually a one-sided view of things, because the court doesn't simply make an assertion. Rather, it reaches a judgment after a careful weighing of the constitutionally protected rights to self-determination and bodily integrity against the parents' right to free exercise of religion. You also can't really say this is a " typically western" view, since in other parts of the world enlightened people are thinking the same way.
BR.de: What does the ruling now mean for doctors? Should they decline to do circumcisions for religious reasons?
Holm Putzke: The risk of doctors being held criminally liable in case of complications, or losing their insurance coverage, is now elevated. However, as a doctor I wouldn't simply decline to do these circumcisions because they're religiously-motivated, but rather because performing medically unnecessary surgery on children who can not defend themselves is ethically incompatible with the medical profession.
BR.de: What message do the court judgment and your legal commentaries send to the religious communities?
Holm Putzke: The point of my early 2008 article, dealing with legal culpability in the religious circumcision of boys, was not to criminalize doctors and parents, or really even religious groups. Rather, I was hoping that a broad public debate might get underway about how much religiously motivated violence against children is tolerable. Neither the judgment nor the overall viewpoint it favors prevents anyone from exercising their religion. It's not about discrimination against religious groups or the total prevention of religious practice; it's really just about postponing a religious act.
BR.de: Is this whole thing a typical German debate? How do you think this topic will be handled in Europe and globally?
Holm Putzke: In other countries, especially in the U.S., there has been a strong movement for decades that criticizes medically unnecessary circumcision on non-consenting children as unethical. Even Israel has seen intense debate over whether religious circumcision of children is ethically justifiable. I have received numerous letters from Israel, where parents have told me that despite their ongoing religious affiliation to Judaism they've abstained from infant circumcision, and prefer to wait until their child is able to make his own independent decision about it. So it seems that if it's supposed to always be the case, as the Central Council of Jews here in Germany claims, that infant religious circumcision remains essential and indisputable in Judaism... then they're really only telling half the story.
BR.de: There's a good chance you're going to be reviled and threatened over this ruling. How do you plan to handle it? [Threats to Prof. Putzke have included drowning and forcible circumcision.]
Holm Putzke: It would be naive to think that my critiques, and the skeptical views of what is by now the majority in the medical and law professions, will only be discussed in a rational, calm and composed manner. Any criticism of religion has always triggered emotional reactions. Insults and threats don't bother me really, if for no other reason than some people are simply hiding behind them when they can't express their displeasure any differently. Good arguments, however, are much more likely to impress me.