The regional court in the western German city of Cologne ruled yesterday that male circumcision performed for religious reasons could cause permanent and irreparable "bodily harm" to the child and should be banned.

"The fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighs the fundamental rights of the parents," read the court's ruling, which is nonbinding and only applies to Cologne, but could set a precedent for the eventual criminalization of the practice.

The ruling was handed down at the conclusion of a case involving a doctor who circumcised a four-year-old Muslim boy at the behest of his parents. After the child returned to the hospital two days later with post-operative bleeding, another doctor phoned the police. The circumcising doctor was acquitted by the court as there is no existing law prohibiting religious circumcision.

Germany's Central Council of Jews protested the ruling, calling it an "unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the right to self-determination of religious communities." The Central Council of Muslims in Germany echoed the outrage, saying the court's decision was a "blatant and inadmissible interference."

Approximately four million Muslims and 120,000 Jews currently live in Germany.

According to Der Spiegel, only some 11 percent of German boys aged 0 to 17 are circumcised, but the issue "remains divisive."

Though the court condemned religious circumcision as "counter to the interests of the child," it did acknowledge that children should be allowed to undergo circumcision if they choose to. The Central Council of Jews has turned to the German parliament, asking for "legal clarity."

The ruling might also be appealed to the "powerful and respected" German Constitutional Court.

[photo via AP]