Not all traditions are good traditions

Thursday September 20, 2012

A German court united Christians, Jews and Muslims recently when it ruled circumcision was an abrogation of a child’s right to physical integrity and self determination.

While the ruling was not an outright ban, the court stated the child’s rights come before its parents’ rights, including freedom of religion.

The district court of Cologne ruled that circumcision "for the purpose of religious upbringing constitutes a violation of physical integrity. The child’s body is permanently and irreparably changed by the circumcision. This change conflicts with the child’s interest of later being able to make his own decision based on his religious affiliation."

The ruling followed a case of the circumcision of a Muslim child that resulted in severe bleeding.

Hospitals in Germany have ceased performing circumcisions while the court’s ruling is clarified and the outcry against the court’s ruling was fast and furious.

A rabbi in Berlin called the ruling "perhaps the most serious attack on Jewish life in Europe since the Holocaust."

Leaders in the German Muslim community said the ruling was "adversarial to the cause of integration and discriminatory against all the parties concerned."

The German Catholic Episcopal Conference called the ruling "extremely disconcerting."

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League said the ruling means, in effect, "Jews are not welcome."

Others in Germany came out in support of the ruling.

"The circumcision of young boys just for religious reasons is a personal injury. Muslims and Jews should decide for themselves -- but not before the age of 14," wrote Matthias Ruch, of the FT Deutschland.

And Die Walt wrote "The circumcision of Muslim boys is just as heinous as the archaic custom of the genital mutilation of little girls. It is an instrument of oppression and should be outlawed."

"After all the knee-jerk outrage has subsided, it is to be hoped it will set in motion a discussion about religiously motivated violence against children," wrote Dr. Holm Putzke, of the University of Passau in Bavaria.

No one is denying that circumcision plays a central role in many religions.

As Paul Livingston wrote on the Huffington Post, circumcision "is indeed an ancient tradition."

But, he wrote, "an adult’s qualified right to manifest their religion ... appears to show an archaic disregard for the rights of a child."

Livingston contended that religions will survive if circumcision is banned, just as they have survived the abolition of slavery, the ban on the death penalty, a ban on female genital mutilation and the acceptance of homosexuality -- all of which at one time or another were core tenets of many beliefs.

Others have stated circumcision is a necessary health precaution that can prevent AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. But condoms, proper hygiene and HPV vaccinations can do the same.

(And before you go there: "Vaccinations are widely accepted to be medically beneficial and are therefore carried out ... as a medical procedure, making them entirely incomparable," wrote Livingston.)

In addition, the British National Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both stated that the potential benefits of circumcision are outweighed by the potential dangers of the operation.

Some have raised the question of where does it stop? Does that mean parents don’t have the right to pierce their children’s ears?

But that’s a false equivalency: Ear piercings eventually heal; foreskin never grows back.

We would argue that just because something has been done for millennia doesn’t mean it’s right, especially when it concerns a permanent change to a child’s body.

Despite those who believe banning circumcision is an attack on religion, it is nonetheless a practice committed upon human beings who have no capacity to give their consent.

We believe it’s cruel, inhumane, shameful and medically unnecessary and should be limited to those 18 years or older who have the reasoning ability to make the decision for themselves.


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