In a previous post, I stressed the importance of standing up for the religious freedom of people of every faith, not just those who share our own convictions. In view of a recent development in Germany, I here wish to say that Christians, especially those of us who are Catholics, should be particularly outspoken in defending the rights of Jews and the Jewish people. It is not simply the memory of past crimes committed by Christians, including leaders of the Church, against Jews—crimes sometimes committed in the very name of Christian faith. It is the fact that we are taught by our Church, and so we believe, that the Jews are the chosen people of God, bound to him in an unbroken and unbreakable covenant. Moreover, for Christians, Jews are, in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II, our “elder brothers in faith.” From a Christian point of view, the Jewish witness in the world has profound and indispensable spiritual meaning.
The recent development in Germany against which we Christians should loudly raise our voices is described by David Goldman (“Spengler”) in an article published today: “On June 26, the District Court of the Federal State of Cologne ruled that circumcision of children for religious reasons at the instruction of parents constituted the infliction of bodily harm and therefore was a punishable offense.” Of course, for observant Jews, circumcision of male children is not optional. It is required as a matter of Jewish law. To prohibit it is, in effect, to forbid Jews from being Jews.
In his article, Goldman, himself an observant Jew, includes the text of a letter he wrote to two German judges. He says: “Not even the Nazis thought of banning circumcision as a way of uprooting Jewish life in Germany. If your decree withstands a constitutional challenge, Germany once again will be Judenrein.” Further on he says: “The neo-pagan illusions of National Socialism have been crushed, although they lurk at the fringes of German politics. Despite their defeat, the National Socialists may have succeeded in extirpating the presence of the divine in German life. No action by responsible public officials since the end of the war has advanced their cause as forcefully as the evil decree you have promulgated.”
Of course, comparing anything to the unfathomable horrors of the Nazi genocide is problematical. The National Socialists hunted down and cruelly murdered every Jewish man, woman, and child they could find. They didn’t simply make it impossible for believing Jews to live in Germany or its occupied lands by banning a practice mandated by religious law. One can nevertheless understand the sense of outrage that would cause Goldman and others in the Jewish community to draw the comparison. What the Cologne court has done is outrageous. It is an outrageous assault on the religious liberty and the rights of conscience of Jews (and Muslims, by the way—the actual case in the Cologne court happened to concern Muslim parents who for religious reasons sought the circumcision of their son).
What was the judges’ motive? I’m not certain. I’m reasonably confident that it was not simply an act of anti-Jewish animus. Still, its disregard for the rights of Jews, rooted in their obligation to fulfill their duties under their covenant with the divine Creator and Ruler of the universe, is deeply disturbing to say the least. Perhaps the judges were moved by an argument, increasingly common in certain circles, claiming that circumcision results in a reduction of sexual pleasure, and thus counts as a form of child abuse when performed on infants (who, of course, cannot consent to the procedure). This argument was among those made by people who recently attempted to persuade the City of San Francisco to enact a law banning circumcision. Fortunately, the City did not enact the ban—for now.
As we Catholics and those of other faiths who have joined with us conclude our Fortnight for Freedom later this week on Independence Day, let us be mindful that the freedom we seek is freedom for all. Yes, it is about the appalling HHS mandates; and yes, it is about laws that shut down Catholic services to orphaned children or Catholic assistance to women trafficked into sexual slavery and other forms of exploitation; but it is also about laws that undermine the ability of Jews, Muslims, and persons of any other faith to fulfill their religious duties; and it is about the rights of people of every religion to manifest their faith in public life as well as in their temples, churches, mosques or homes.