Posted by: aboutalbion | June 30, 2012

Religious rituals in a modern tolerant society: non-therapeutic circumcision

I was encouraged to read earlier this week of a court decision in the Cologne area of Germany in the case of a doctor who performed a circumcision operation on a four year old boy.  Although the doctor was acquitted, the court made the recommendation that non-therapeutic circumcision of young children should be made a criminal offence.

I consider that any claim that the religious freedom of the care givers has been infringed is misplaced, because the religious freedom that they have relates to their personal adult life choices and not those of their children.  I would argue that the rule of law in the care givers place of residence gives expression to what is in the child’s best interests.

I think that the religious freedom claim needs some scrutiny.  A ritual such as circumcision is commonly understood as a religious sacrifice.  And my understanding of sacrifice is that at the point of sacrifice the person making the sacrifice is giving something away in the expectation that s/he will receive something of greater value in return.  I consider that a young child (who is making the sacrifice) is unable to consent to this religious doctrine of sacrifice.  And I consider that the child’s care givers are exceeding their powers in arranging for the child to be circumcised for non-therapeutic reasons.

In presenting a child for this irreversible surgery, I can’t help thinking that the enduring lesson that the care givers of a child want the child to learn is that religious membership cannot be renounced.  And to me, this lesson does not sit comfortably with notions of religious freedom.

So I welcome the Cologne decision.  And I hope that it gives renewed courage to legislators around the world to outlaw both female and male (non-therapeutic) genital mutilation of children.  To my mind, flaps and foreskins are not birth defects – for almost all children.


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