BERLIN, (AFP-EJP)---Berlin's Jewish Hospital will suspend circumcisions after a German court ruled this week that performing the procedure on religious grounds is unlawful, a hospital spokesman said Friday.
The hospital decided to stop performing the procedures in light of Tuesday's ruling by the Cologne district court, Kristof Graf, head of the Department for Internal Medicine at the Jewish Hospital told the Tageszeitung newspaper on Saturday.
"We are suspending circumcisions until the legal position is clear," Gerhard Nerlich told AFP, citing head of internal medicine Kirstof Graf.
After consulting with internal and external lawyers on the subject, the hospital decided their doctors could not continue to operate on legally uncertain ground.
The hospital performed 300 procedures last year, of which 100 were for non-medical reasons and the remainder due to medical concerns.
"We regularly performed circumcisions before this ruling but we don't have the legal freedom to do so any more," said Nerlich, adding that two procedures had already been cancelled.
Earlier on Friday German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle weighed in the debate, saying the country protected religious freedom and traditions.
"The ruling on circumcision has provoked annoyance internationally," Westerwelle wrote on his official Twitter account.
"We have to be clear: religious traditions are protected in Germany," he added.
A regional court in Cologne ruled that circumcising young boys on religious grounds amounts to grievous bodily harm in a judgement which triggered accusations that parents' rights were being trampled on.
The case, which could set a precedent, was brought against a doctor in Cologne who had circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy on his parents' wishes.
A few days after the operation, his parents took him to hospital as he was bleeding heavily and prosecutors charged the doctor.
The court later acquitted the doctor himself of causing harm.
Muslim and Jewish groups along with top Christian clerics have voiced strong opposition to the ruling as an attack on religious freedom.
Bboth Jewish and Muslim leaders have stressed that male circumcision is a fundamental and ritual part of their faith.
"Circumcision is absolutely fundamental for the Jewish faith and non-negotiable," head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Dieter Graumann told Focus magazine on Saturday.
If the Cologne Court's ruling is taken as a precedent then "Germany would be the only country in the world in which circumcision is forbidden," he added.
Aiman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the magazine that his organisation was thinking of taking the question of ritual circumcision before Germany's Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court in Karlsruhe.
However, a clear survey conducted on behalf of the magazine found that a majority of Germans (56 percent) support the ruling, with just 35 percent opposing it. German child protection organisations are among those supporting the court's decision.
Junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition government the FDP (Liberal) are pushing for a law to clarify that circumcision remains legal in Germany, FDP integration expert Serkan Tören told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle, who is from FDP, was also quoted in the Bild's online edition saying that Germany "is an open and tolerant country where religious freedom is well established and where religious traditions like circumcision as an expression of religious diversity are protected."