The German debate on male circumcision and Habermas’ model of post‐secularity

Bioethics 33 (4):457-466 (2018)
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Abstract

This paper considers Habermas’ model of a post‐secular political order in the light of the debate on male circumcision that arose in Germany after a court ruled that male circumcision was an unjustifiable act of bodily harm. Central to this model is the idea that religious reasons can only become effective in central legal institutions when they are translated into secular reasons. My paper demonstrates that there are two distinguishable readings of this proviso. On the one hand, there is a broad reading according to which it is only necessary to reach a conclusion that is in line with the democratic principle stating that all citizens can be regarded as co‐legislators even if non‐generalizable value orientations might then shape the interpretation of fundamental rights (in the case of circumcision, the right to bodily integrity). On the other hand, a truly secular (narrow) reading would avoid the inclusion of non‐generalizable value orientations. The debate on circumcision demonstrates that these two interpretations lead to different and conflicting modes of justification. The broad reading allows for a justification of male circumcision, whereas the narrow reading makes such a justification unlikely. In addition, the filtering function of the proviso is weakened in a broad reading.

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