BERLIN, Germany — The German government has promised to protect the right to perform circumcision on children, amid controversy over a court ruling that classified the religious practice as a criminal offense.
The district court of Cologne ruled last month that the circumcision of minors for any reason other than medical constitutes physical assault, opening the door to prosecution for anyone who performs it.
Responding to criticism from religious groups, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said today there was a consensus throughout the government that "we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany."
"Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment," Reuters quoted Steffen Siebert as saying.
He promised that the chancellor's office would be part of efforts to resolve the issue, calling it a "matter of urgency" that the right to circumcise children be restored.
More from GlobalPost: German court rules religious circumcision of minors is 'assault'
Siebert gave no indication what action would be taken, though the opposition SPD party has argued for a new law protecting the right to circumcise, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Referring to the case of a four-year-old Muslim boy who suffered complications from a circumcision, the Cologne judges ruled that protection of the child's physical integrity and right to choose his own beliefs should take precedence over the parents' right to religious freedom.
As a district court ruling, the verdict is open to challenge in other German courts. It nonetheless prompted the German Medical Association to advise doctors to stop performing circumcisions until the law had been clarified, the president of the group, Dr Frank Montgomery, told the BBC earlier this week.
The government's statement on the matter comes a day after the Conference of European Rabbis described the ruling as the "worse attack on Jewish life since the Holocaust," according to the Spiegel Online.
If it were allowed to stand, warned the group's president, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, "then I don't see a future for Jews in Germany."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also expressed concern that the ruling would harm Germany's international reputation, the FAZ said.
More from GlobalPost: Uncircumcised boys are at higher risk of infection, study says