Austria’s religious leaders defend circumcision
VIENNA, July 27 — Austria's Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders united in defence of circumcision on Friday, condemning calls from two provincial leaders to limit the practice as an attack on religion and demanding that the government clarify its legality.
The row follows weeks of emotional debate and outrage in Germany where a regional court in Cologne banned the procedure on June 27 as physical abuse.
The Justice Ministry in Vienna has expressed surprise that a German verdict should be thought to have any relevance in Austria, and the health minister has played down the importance of what he called an overhyped debate imported from Germany.
Peter Schipka, general secretary of the Roman Catholic Austrian Bishops' Conference, told journalists on Friday: "We are concerned about all attempts to exploit the debate that has been triggered by the Cologne verdict to promote a hostile attitude in Austria towards Judaism, Islam or religion in general."
Protestant leader Michael Buenker noted there had been no similar attacks on other practices that were also physical interventions on children, such as ear piercing or vaccinations.
The right to religious freedom is protected in the Austrian constitution and can only be changed in law by a two-thirds majority in parliament.
Those seeking to ban circumcision argue a competing right to freedom from physical harm should take precedence, and that infants are unable to consent to being circumcised.
The four leaders called on the government to make a clear statement in defence of religious freedom and the lawfulness of male circumcision - an obligation in both Judaism and Islam.
Oskar Deutsch, leader of Austria's Jewish communities, said the law was clear that parents had a right to bring up their children in accordance with their faith.
"Nonetheless, the government is asked here very clearly to repeat this once more and to clarify that this will not be challenged in this country," he said. — Reuters