Friday, May 4, 2012

Limits to Religious Freedom: Circumcision and Herpes

I'm not religious although I don't think I'm necessarily anti-religious. People can believe what they like and within certain constraints act as they like based on their religious beliefs. If you want to believe that there's someone in the sky watching you or some Force in the universe that is interested in the doings of human beings, it doesn't really impact me. Go for it.  I came down on the side of the Catholic Church over the contraception provision controversy. Basically I think that as long as you aren't hurting anyone else the state should pretty much stay out of your affairs. I think that's a general good rule for most citizens and it's a constitutionally protected right for religious institutions. You mind your business and I will mind mine. Good fences make good neighbors. Each captain runs his own crew. We all have to tend our own gardens. Live and let live. And so on.
But.............
There are limits. You don't get to sacrifice babies to Baal. You don't get to force your children to become temple prostitutes for Ishtar. The Catholic Church has no constitutional right to priest-boy sex. Although your religion might find dogs unclean you can't go around banning or killing other people's dogs. And it's iffy because parents do have the right to oversee and direct medical care for their minor children but if a parent wanted to use prayer instead of medicine to treat a gunshot wound to a child I would not lose sleep if the state intervened, treated the child and arrested the parent. Those sorts of actions would make me hostile to religion, not just because the religious person is accepting myths that to me make no sense, but because they are harming other people. That's the red line I think.


So if you tell me that your religion requires that a grown man undertake bloody oral genital contact with a baby so that said baby becomes an acceptable member of your religious society , then I'm gonna reach for my baseball bat and keep a close eye on you while I call the cops. Because that is FAR across any sort of red line.
A baby died at a New York hospital in September after contracting herpes from a controversial circumcision ritual.The infant died at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, where the cause of death was listed as "disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction," according to the New York Daily News.
Now, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office is looking further into the case, the Jewish Week reports. The boy is the second New York area infant in recent years to die from complications related to the Orthodox Jewish ritual of metzitzah b'peh, during which "the mohel places his mouth on the freshly circumcised penis to draw blood away from the cut,"according to the New York City Department of Heath.For its part, the state health department — then headed by Antonina Novello, appointed by Republican Gov. Pataki, who himself had strong ties to the Orthodox community — reached its own agreement with chasidic leaders in June of 2006, hailed by Rabbi Niederman in a press release as a “historic protocol” and the one to which Zwiebel referred to above.
The 2010 letter to rabbis from the commissioner of the state health department, referenced above, noted that “over the past five years” there have been “several documented cases” of herpes simplex Type 1 viruses in newborns who underwent metzitzah b’peh in New York City. 
When it came to light that two more babies had been infected (apparently not by Fischer), Frieden issued an “Open Letter to the Jewish Community,” which recommended — but stopped short of requiring — a cessation of the practice altogether, instead endorsing alternatives to the practice, like using a sterile glass tube (which is done in modern Orthodox circles). 

Now putting aside the generally accepted hypocrisy that male circumcision is just fine while female circumcision is a Stone Age evil that must be stamped out, it seems to me that whatever your feelings might be about the propriety of chopping away genital tissue from newborns, at the very least you would have to admit that a man having oral contact with a boy's bleeding penis as part of a religious ritual is not safe and shouldn't be legal. 
Unfortunately because of political considerations in New York this has not attracted a huge amount of media attention. Finally law enforcement is looking into it because of the death of the babies, but honestly it never should have come to that. This is something where religion and state must clash and the state MUST win. The men who performed this deed should be identified, arrested and prosecuted with the full vigor of the law. The city and state of New York need to give out information about the health dangers of this practice and convince parents not to allow it. And finally if the parents refuse to change their behavior they ought to be arrested and charged the same way we would charge any other parent who harms a child. I don't see a lot of grey here. It's black and white for me. Man putting his mouth on boy's privates= man going to jail.
But what do you think?
1) Should this practice be outlawed? Do you see religious freedom problems?
2) Should the parents and/or rabbi go to jail?
3) Is focus on this practice anti-religious?
4) If outlawed would this interfere with parental prerogatives?

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