New York baby boys experience mohel hell

FFRF: Ritual circumcision poses dangers

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, concerned about dangers to public health posed by ritual circumcision, has contacted New York state, local and national officials about the religious practice.

According to reports by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, ultra-orthodox Jewish parents are exposing newborns to herpes simplex virus infections by allowing adult men called mohels to place their mouths on boys' penises to draw blood away from the circumcision wound. At least two infants have died from the infection, two others have suffered brain damage, and other victims must deal with a chronic, lifelong infection that can cause painful lesions.

The "bris" or "brit milah" is traditionally done on the eighth day of life and is followed by a celebratory meal. Oral suction of the wound, "metzitzah b'peh," is limited to primarily Hasidic communities.

FFRF is a state-church watchdog based in Madison, Wis., with about 20,000 members nationwide and more than 1,100 in New York state. Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote a letter Feb. 12 to several officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, District Attorney Cyrus Vance, heads of the state and city health departments and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer.

"To put the seriousness of this infection in perspective, the reported cases show that a newborn infected with HSV by a mohel is seven times more likely to die than a climber attempting to summit Everest or a U.S. soldier fighting in World War I," Seidel wrote.

"Currently, the only regulation to protect children from this outrageous practice is informed parental consent. This must change. The government should stop placing adults' desire to impose their religion above the health, safety, and lives of defenseless infants," he said.

FFRF called on Vance to prosecute those responsible. "No person's religious rights would be hindered by prohibiting this criminal act. Without regulation, the helpless infants' rights are trampled in the name of a religion they cannot begin to grasp. Adults do not have a religious right to expose their children to disease and death."

Seidel noted that current state law bans knowingly transmitting an infectious venereal disease, endangering the welfare of the child and reckless endangerment. "The exceptions carved out for religion could be amended or these laws could actually be enforced."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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