Swiss and Austrian Hospitals Suspend Non-Medically Necessary Circumcisions

Here’s a story which reports that certain Swiss and Austrian hospitals have suspended circumcision in situations where the procedure is not medically necessary.  They have taken these steps allegedly because of the legal uncertainty of circumcision after a German court held the practice to be the equivalent of a criminal assault.  That particular reason seems strange to me, since Switzerland and Austria are not under German jurisdiction.  But that’s the reason they give.  From the story:

A group of Orthodox rabbis warned on Wednesday that the ancient Jewish practice of infant male circumcision could face further restrictions in Europe after some hospitals in Austria and Switzerland suspended the procedure by citing a German court ruling that it could amount to criminal bodily harm.

Last month’s verdict by a regional court in Cologne did not ban circumcision, but it prompted angry protests from Jewish and Muslims groups, especially after the German Medical Association advised doctors not to perform unnecessary circumcisions until the legal situation was clarified – something Germany‘s government has pledged to do soon.

Two weeks ago, a hospital in Zurich also suspended circumcisions, saying it wanted to investigate public concerns about the procedure, which involves cutting off a boy’s foreskin. Anti-circumcision campaigners say the act breaches the child’s right to bodily integrity, while faith groups insist it is part of their religious freedom.

“We in Switzerland aren’t directly affected by the Cologne ruling, but it sparked a debate about how to deal with the medical and ethical issues involved,” said Marco Stuecheli, a spokesman for Zurich’s Children‘s Hospital.

On Tuesday, the governor of Vorarlberg province in Austria told state-run hospitals to stop circumcisions except for health reasons until the legal situation was clarified. He said the German decision, which arose from the case of a child whose circumcision led to medical complications, was a “precedence-setting judgment.”

From Gibbon’s Volume 2: Christianity and the Civil Authority

Until Judge Posner’s recent dissent in the Elmbrook School District case (discussed here and here), I don’t think I can remember the last time a judge cited to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (a quick Westlaw search shows only a handful of citations).  If evidence were needed that Judge Posner writes his own opinions, one could probably stop with that quotation.  I’ve got an old 1925 edition of the seven volumes edited by J.B. Bury which had been gathering dust here at home, and I started paging through it last night (a 12-volume on-line set may be found here).  The beginning of Volume 2 (Chapters 15 and 16) is all about the rise of Christianity and the early Christians’ view of the existing Roman civil power.  Here’s a bit from Chapter 15 where Gibbon’s, one might say, ambivalent view of the early Christians shines through:

The Christians were not less averse to the business [of war] than to the pleasures of this world.  The defence of our persons and property they knew not how to reconcile with the patient doctrine which enjoined an unlimited forgiveness of past injuries and commanded them to invite the repetition of fresh insults.  Their simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the pomp of magistracy, and by the active contention of public life, nor could their humane ignorance be convinced that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the blood of our fellow-creatures, either by the sword of justice or by that of war; even though their criminal or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and safety of the whole community.*  It was acknowledged that, under a less perfect law, the powers of the Jewish constitution had been exercised, with the approbation of Heaven, by inspired prophets and by anointed kings.  The Christians felt and confessed that such institutions might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their Pagan governors.  But, while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire.  Some indulgence might perhaps be allowed to those persons who, before their conversion, were already engaged in such violent and sanguinary occupations; but it was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.  

* The same patient principles have ben revived since the Reformation by the Socinians, the modern Anabaptists, and the Quakers . . . . [MOD note: see Philip Hamburger’s piece about 6 years ago, Religious Freedom in Philadelphia, for parallel disagreements between the Revolutionaries and the Quakers on the question of conscientious objection to military service]

ECtHR’s Grand Chamber to Hear Romanian Church Autonomy Case

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights  has decided to review the judgment in Sindicatul Păstoral Cel Bun v. Romania, a significant church autonomy case. In the case, a group of Romanian Orthodox priests sought to register as a trade union. The Romanian Orthodox Church objected, arguing that registration would violate the Church’s autonomy, and a Romanian court agreed. In January, however, a  lower chamber of the ECtHR ruled that the European Human Rights Convention granted the priests a right to unionize even over their church’s objections (for details, see our discussion of the lower chamber’s reasoning).  Romania referred the lower chamber’s decision to the Grand Chamber, which has accepted the case. This is not the only important church autonomy case at the ECtHR these days. In May, a different chamber ruled, in Fernandez Martinez v. Spain, that the church autonomy principle allowed a Catholic bishop to fire a priest who had been teaching religion in Spanish schools. Here’s a press release about the Romanian case from the Becket Fund, which represents Romania and the Romanian Orthodox Church.