The New York City Board of Health last week recklessly decided to abandon the only inadequate restriction it had over controversial ritual Jewish circumcision. The board, fulfilling a so-called priority of Mayor Bill de Blasio, voted last week to repeal its requirement of informed consent for circumcisions during which the circumciser sucks blood from the newly cut penis with his mouth.
Parents have a right to be minimally informed that this practice can expose infants to herpes simplex virus, which can lead to fatal encephalitis and other complications. In at least two instances, this practice has resulted in the newborn's death. Two other infants have suffered brain damage(1). Others deal with a chronic, lifelong infection that causes painful lesions.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation in February 2014 wrote the board, calling the informed consent requirement inadequate, asking the NYC Board of Health instead to prohibit this child abuse. We asked the board to place the health, safety, and lives of defenseless infants above adult imposition of religion.
The free exercise of religion protected by our Constitution does not include the right to endanger the health and life of helpless infants. The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament occasionally required parents to sacrifice their children in the name of their god(2), but obviously our secular law does not allow such sacrifice, anymore than our laws allow parents to practice Old Testament customs such as selling daughters into slavery(3).
No person's religious rights would be hindered by prohibiting this criminal act. Adults can consent to undergo this ritual circumcision. but adults should not have a right to expose their children to disease and death in the name of religion. Religion is not an excuse for an adult to sexually touch a minor, let alone an infant. Religion is not an excuse to infect an infant with a possibly fatal and definitely incurable disease.
Society must protect its most vulnerable citizens. Current New York laws ban remarkably similar behavior: 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.
Federal law already prohibits female genital mutilation, despite religious attempts to justify the practice. The law allows individuals over the age of 18 to volunteer for the procedure and has exemptions for medical necessity if carried out by trained medical personnel.
Like the law against FGM, banning this practice would serve a compelling governmental interest: protecting a child's right to life and health.
Mayor de Blasio and the NYC Health Board have abandoned their duty and the children they are obligated to watch over.
(1) NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2014 Alert #2 (January 28, 2014) available at https://a816-health29ssl.nyc.gov/sites/NYCHAN/Lists/AlertUpdateAdvisoryDocuments/2014%20-%20NeonatalHSV.pdf
(2) Exodus 13:2, though God allows for a sheep and ass to substitute for the first born child. See also Jephthah sacrifices his daughter on God's command (Judges 11:29-40); Abraham tries to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18); and even in the New Testament, the Jewish God sacrifices his alleged son, Jesus.
(3) Exodus 21:7-11