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German circumcision row heading for new legal battle

Germany's constitutional court may have the last word on religious circumcision, the justice minister said in remarks to appear Monday, after lawmakers called for a legal framework to protect the practice.

A rabbi carries an eight-day-old baby during a 2004 circumcision ceremony in Jerusalem. Germany's constitutional court may have the last word on religious circumcision, the justice minister said after lawmakers called for a legal framework to protect the practice.

Their resolution on Thursday came after a court in the western city of Cologne sparked nationwide debate by ruling last month to criminalise the practice -- observed by both Muslims and Jews on religious grounds -- deeming it tantamount to grievous bodily harm.

"It's more complicated than adding a simple little phrase somewhere," Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger told the weekly Der Spiegel.

"I wouldn't be surprised after this emotional debate if the law landed before the German constitutional court," said the minister, who belongs to the liberal Free Democratic Party, part of the government coalition.

MPs of the lower house Bundestag adopted a cross-party motion Thursday calling for legislation by this autumn that would guarantee the right to religious circumcision as long as it does not entail "unnecessary suffering."

Two opposition lawmakers who spoke to the Sunday weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung voiced scepticism that legislation could be hammered out so quickly.

Social Democrat Marlene Rupprecht, a children's advocate, said more than half of the party's parliamentary group thought the resolution was hasty.

Her counterpart for the Greens, Katja Doerner, said many in her party agreed.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen here in March 2012, has told her party the country risked becoming a "laughing stock" over a court ruling calling religious circumcision a criminal act. Germany's constitutional court may have the last word on religious circumcision, the justice minister said after lawmakers called for a legal framework to protect the practice.

The Cologne ruling published in June was an embarrassment for the government.

Chancellor Angela Merkel herself reportedly said the ruling risked making Germany a "laughing stock."

In an interview with the weekly Focus to appear on Monday, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dieter Graumann, said the debate had "nothing to do" with anti-Semitism.

But he said he was surprised at the apparent ignorance of many Germans about religious rites, while hailing the Bundestag resolution.

Germany's Jewish community numbers around 200,000, while the Muslim population is some four million.

The World Health Organisation estimates that some 30 percent of males aged 15 and over are circumcised. In the United States, for example, most boys undergo the procedure for reasons of hygiene as well as social conformity.

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