Amici Curiae: Cologne’s Ban on Religious Circumcision, Toronto’s New Background Check Policy & London’s Banking Scandal

Conflict with the Covenant: German Court Bans Religious Circumcision

After a medical complication arising in a circumcision performed on a four year old Muslim boy, a Cologne court ruled that circumcising young boys on religious grounds equated with bodily harm – even if the parents had consented to the practice. In this decision, the court put a child’s right to physical integrity before freedom of religion and the parents’ rights. The court found that “even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, [it] should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent.”

Technically, the ruling is a postponement and not an outright ban of religious circumcision. However, Jewish law states that (barring certain exceptions), a circumcision must occur on the eighth day of life. And with those exceptions, the circumcision takes place the first available day thereafter. There is no fixed age for circumcision in the Muslim community, but in tradition it ranges from as early as the seventh day after birth to as late as puberty.

Leaders of the Jewish and Muslim communities in Germany have voiced their concern in the decision citing the undertones of discrimination and religious intolerance. While this decision is only binding in the region of Cologne, it has doctors questioning whether they want to continue performing the operations, and has the potential of being copied in other regions of the country. In an effort to abate some of the fears expressed by Jewish and Muslim Communities, Guido Westerville, Germany’s foreign minister, has stated that “Germany is an open-minded, tolerant country where religious freedom is firmly established and religious traditions like circumcision are considered an expression of religious pluralism.”

As for the next steps, the decision may either be appealed through the court system or, given the public response, may be modified by lawmakers through the enactment of new legislation. Otherwise the ruling may stay and simply lead to “circumcision tourism in neighbouring countries in Europe” according to Ali Demir, head of the Religious Community of Islam in Germany.

Genesis 17:714 writes, “And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that should shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.” Religious practices are unlikely to change as they have been ongoing for thousands of years  – what may change for German Jews and Muslims is the venue.


Stricter Employee Background Check Policy Implemented By the City of Toronto

Just last month, the downtown core of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, was shaken up when Christopher Husbands, a 23-year old father, allegedly opened fire at the food court of the Eaton Centre, one of the biggest and busiest malls in the city. The result of this supposed gang-related rampage led to the death of 2 people (who were also allegedly involved in rival gangs), and injured seven others, including a 13-year old boy. While Husbands eventually turned himself in, he faces charges of 2 counts of first-degree murder, and for injuring 6 other victims. Even as he awaits trial, another issue has been hotting up around his day job, history and work eligibility, especially since it was found that the City of Toronto, his most recent employer, had failed to conduct a background check on Husbands while hiring him as a staff worker who would be in close proximity to children.  He worked part-time with the City for about six months before the shooting incident.

However, what the employment system failed to pick up was that Husbands was supposed to be under house arrest for a previous crime of sexual assault that he had committed. While it was true that he had been asked to submit all relevant background information, the biggest shock came when it was found that the City allowed Husbands to continue working part-time without receiving his police clearance,  even though his application had been “flagged” for suspicious behaviour.

The incident has sparked much criticism, because of the city’s lapse of judgment, that led to Husbands’ close working with children. It has led to an immediate amendment of the rules for police background checks by the City, which will now require recreational or temporary summer workers to have to provide all requested information immediately, and prior to the commencement of their work duties (which, logically, should have been the default policy anyway). A point to be noted though, is that  Toronto hires thousands of part-time workers like Husbands every year, and the new policy seems to have a quick-fix measure integrated into it. It will also make the recruitment process slower, though there does not seem to be much of a choice currently, since the existing background check measures have so obviously failed in this instance. While the new precautionary mechanisms are indeed designed to be effective, the real question is whether they will catch the right kinds of wrongdoers, and not just compromise efficiency with further ineffectiveness.


Barclays’ Interest Rate Manipulation Scandal: What It Means for Other Banks

In the age of exorbitant executive compensation, Ponzi schemes and risky gambles – in other words, unbridled greed – some of us simply roll our eyes when we hear about another bank accused of putting their bottom line before anything else. This summer, the bank at the centre of an international interest rate rigging controversy is Barclays, a preeminent British bank and a formidable international player. Last week, Barclays agreed to pay a penalty of $450 million for trying to manipulate the Libor, the London interbank offered rate, and Euribor, the Euro interbank offered rate. By setting the rate low, it lined its own pockets.

The logistics of this scheme are simple: the Libor and the Euribor are indicators of borrowing rates for consumers and companies. They affect the pricing of derivatives, which banks buy and sell on a daily basis. One estimate is that the market for derivatives is somewhere in the range of $700 trillion dollars. These rates affect more than the operations of banks; they affect mortgages, student loans, credit cards, etc., meaning that they impact the everyday person. With these rates rigged, the markets become rigged. The winner is the bank. The losers are bank customers and parties on the other side of the bank’s deals, such as pension funds, according to commentators.

What makes this case truly remarkable is that the puck does not stop at Barclays. Barclays is only one of a dozen banks that provides information used to set the daily rate for the Libor and Euribor. In admitting wrongdoing and settling with regulators on both sides of the pond – London and Washington – Barclays executives made ominous statements about how widespread this corrupt practice is. They offered evidence of their managers and traders colluding with employees of other banks to make false reports, so that they could align their strategies for mutual gain. In addition to submitting erroneous information to benefit pricing for derivatives, they later offered incorrect interest rates to counter media speculation about the bank’s overall stability, explains Peter J. Henning.

According to the New York Times, this ‘Libor scandal’ is nothing short of conspiracy and price-fixing. Other banks being investigated include some of the biggest in the world: HSBC, Citigroup, JPMorgan, etc. While the Justice Department of the United States did not press charges against the banks, it is very likely that they will go ahead with criminal charges against those individuals directly involved. And there is also the possibility of private lawsuits being filed against the banks for manipulating one of the most important financial benchmarks in the world, according to Henning.

The Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer of Barclays all stepped down last week amidst the turmoil. But it takes more than a few resignations for public confidence to be restored. Whether taking reckless gambles that result in a $9 billion dollar loss (see JPMorgan as of late) or poisoning the water supply for the world’s financial system by manipulating the Libor, these banks have displayed such Shakespearean hubris that Macbeth looks weak-willed by comparison.

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