Is This What “Religious Freedom” Looks Like?
The recent decision by a court in Cologne, Germany, which—following the circumcision-gone-wrong of a four-year-old Muslim boy—declared infant and child circumcision to be a crime and a human rights violation, seems to have started a trend. Shortly thereafter, in both Austria and Switzerland, hospitals announced that they will cease circumcising children in the absence of medical necessity.
Jewish groups cry “anti-Semitism!” (despite the fact that the child in question was not Jewish)—while throwing in the fact that among Muslims, circumcision is also ubiquitous. One group of rabbis called the German court decision “the worst thing to happen since the Holocaust.” Thus, they claim, any effort to ban the cutting of (boy) children violates the religious freedom of peoples who can cite a justification for this ritual from an ancient book.
Meanwhile in New York City, fearful of being called anti-Jewish, the Health Department has allowed ultra-Orthodox Jews to continue a practice, “metzizah b’peh,” by which the circumciser sucks the blood from the freshly cut penis with his mouth. This ritual, practiced only among a small segment of the Orthodox population, has led to two deaths in Brooklyn, and devastating injuries—including blindness and brain damage—in eleven other children. The ritual circumciser knew he was infected with active herpes, a disease survivable for adults, but deadly for infants.
In reaction, some officials have proposed that parents sign a “consent form,” which would do nothing to protect the child, but would allow the City to avoid any responsibility and— instead—blame the parents.
May we ask: Is this what religious freedom looks like?
Is this what we are protecting, in order to assure the world we are not anti-Semitic?
Will this baby, numbed by shock as wine dribbles out of his mouth, thank us for preserving the religious freedom of his parents to hire somebody to cut off part of his penis?
Is it anti-Semitic (or anti-Muslim) to advocate for babies and children who have their own right to religious freedom, but are too young to exercise it?
Is it not genuinely anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim to fail to defend the sons of Jews and Muslims? Are they any less worthy of our protection?
Georganne Chapin and John Geisheker
(John Geisheker is an attorney, and the Executive Director of Doctors Opposing Circumcision)