A Hypothetical Argument Against Tradition

A common defense used to justify continued legal indifference to the clear rights violation of male child circumcision in the United States is tradition. The sometimes-blurry distinction between ritual and social tradition is mostly irrelevant. The argument is that humans have been circumcising male children for thousands of years. In the United States, the tradition approaches 150 years. Tradition relies on “if it ain’t broke” without questioning whether or not it’s broken. I reject this, obviously, but I’d like to offer a hypothetical scenario:

A family gathers every Thanksgiving at the home of the family matriarch. This has continued for decades, and now includes children, grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren. Every year, the menu remains constant. The festivities start at the same time. Afterwards, there’s football in the yard before watching football on television.

One family member does not participate because he chooses to spend the holiday at with his wife’s family.

Those who defend tradition seem to argue that an opposition to male child circumcision rejects this. Reject tradition-inspired circumcision and you reject a family’s ability to decide. This is not the case, because the correct equivalent includes one additional piece of information not yet expressed in the hypothetical.

The man who chooses not to participate is physically forced by his blood relatives and barred from leaving the family’s holiday celebration. When he objects, he is restrained. At the end of the festivities each year, he is permitted to leave.

If he sought state intervention, would he have a valid claim of false imprisonment? Does the family’s claim of tradition supersede his right to be free in his movements and activities? The answers are undeniably “yes” and “no”, respectively.

Obviously the age of the individuals is an essential variant in the discussion. Let’s consider it. If the family refused to circumcise a son in childhood, when do they lose the right to circumcise him? At age 18? If at 18, is it not contradictory to permit them to circumcise him without need before that age? In doing so, they are effectively granted the right to choose circumcision for him at 18, 28, 38, 48, etc. He can’t unchoose what they’ve imposed. The permanence of the decision separates it from every other parental responsibility claimed as an equivalent. Those alternate claims involve life-sustaining needs (food) and/or objective benefits (education). Circumcision fits neither category, while also lacking the affected individual’s ability to overcome poor choices by his parents contained in legitimate choices based in parental responsibility.

That returns the defense to tradition. Children may be forced to attend the family gathering for Thanksgiving. Conceded. But the logic – defined loosely – needed for forced circumcision of minors based on tradition requires a familial right to override an adult’s liberty to refuse attendance at all present and future gatherings. No such right exists. There can be no consistent rule based on tradition. Thus, tradition can’t be an acceptable defense for a permanent reduction of another’s future bodily choice, barring objective medical need. We must rely on principles rather than tradition. Principles center exclusively on the individual and his natural rights.