The case arose after the circumcision of a four-year-old Muslim boy led to severe bleeding and other complications. The German physician who performed the operation, identified in the proceeding only as “Dr K,” was charged by German prosecutors. The Cologne court declined to convict the physician, noting that “Dr K” had no way of knowing that the circumcision would be ruled illegal; however, the court held that the procedure itself was criminal.
The ruling provoked immediate outrage from Germany's Muslim community as well as its Jewish citizens. Dieter Graumann, president of the Jewish Central Council, declared that the verdict constituted
an unprecedented and dramatic intervention in the 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. This religious right is respected in every part of the world.
Ali Demir, Chairman of the Islamic Religious Community in Germany, protested:
This is a harmless procedure with thousands of years of tradition behind it and high symbolic value. The decision of the Cologne State Court that the religious circumcision of boys is illegal and punishable by law is a wholly inappropriate interference with freedom of religion. I feel the ruling is hostile to integration and discriminatory for those affected.
The Cologne ruling is part of a general repudiation of the rights of religious communities in Europe to practice the laws of their faith if it notionally violates human, or even animal, rights. In April of this year, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany upheld lower court rulings which banned the halal slaughter of animals — the ritual killing of animals by a single cut to the throat — which is required under both Islamic and Jewish law.