November 9, 2007

Circumcision: Sexual abuse or religious freedom?

Circumcision is a hot topic this week. It's made its way in front of its highest court ever, in oral arguments before the Oregon Supreme Court.

In one corner, a father who recently converted to Judaism and wants to circumcise his 12-year-old son, over whom he has custody.

In the other corner, a mother who contends the religious rite is dangerous and amounts to sexual abuse.

It's not clear what the boy wants. According to an affidavit by the mother, the boy told her he did not want to be circumcised but was afraid of contradicting the father. (How many 12-year-old boys relish the prospect of a knife to the genitals?) But anyway, the father maintained in response to a question from one of the high court justices, the child's wishes are not legally relevant.

Do custodial parents have the right to impose genital mutilation or a nose job "on children whose faces are just fine," another justice asked the father. Yes, the father responded during this week's oral arguments; parents may do anything to their children that is not illegal, except perhaps tattoo "a swastika on the forehead."

The original trial court had ruled in favor of the husband, and an appellate court upheld that ruling.

Anti-circumcision groups and Jewish groups are weighing in with opposing amicus briefs in the case, which has a colorful history. According to court papers in a 1998 dispute over a restraining order, the wife - a Russian bride - was whipped by her husband while playing the role of "slave girl" to her "god" and "master."

With this week's hearing before a state high court, the ex-slave girl has certainly found her voice. Although if I had to bet, I'd wager that her ex-master will win this battle; courts do not like to interfere with custodial parents.

The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, the New York Sun, and the Concurring Opinions blog have interesting coverage and commentary.

Thanks to subscriber Kirk Witherspoon for sending me the cool bear photo.