I’ve known about this for a little bit, but I hadn’t planned to blog it because I don’t think it will initially amount to much. But it’s in the press now, so here’s an update on the Oregon circumcision case:
A divorced father who wants to circumcise his 13-year-old son against the wishes of the boy’s mother is trying to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
James Boldt, who converted to Judaism, argues that preventing him from circumcising his son violates his constitutional right to practice his religion.
The U.S. Supreme Court accepts a small fraction of the appeals it receives. A decision on whether it will take the case is not expected until the fall [sic]
Earlier this year, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the trial judge should determine what the boy wants.
Obviously the mother, who is trying to prevent the circumcision, must approach this as if the Supreme Court will consider the father’s request. I think she’d achieve the same short-term outcome if she ignored it because, until the trial judge determines what the boy wants, there is no reason for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider intervening.
That said, it might be interesting to speculate that the father is signaling something about the boy’s wishes if he’s wants to bypass his incomplete-but-favorable victory granted by the Oregon Supreme Court. But that would be speculation, so I will go no further until I know more.
To his claim that “preventing him from circumcising his son violates his constitutional right to practice his religion,” every necessary piece of information you need is in that brief statement. His constitutional right, as an individual, can never legitimately include the option to surgically alter another person. That the other person is healthy is relevant but not necessary for consideration. That the other person is his child is irrelevant. “His child” is properly stressed as “his child“. He is the child’s guardian, not the child’s owner. The child has his own individual rights that negate¹ his father’s assertion that his religious requirement permits him to remove his son’s foreskin.
Additionally, if the court is to recognize that a parent may circumcise a male child under the U.S. Constitution because a religious text tells them to circumcise, the court must also overturn the Female Genital Mutilation Act as an unconstitutional infringement upon this same alleged First Amendment right of parents to inflict genital surgery on their daughters because the law specifically excludes any parental claim to religion. If the parents have this right, it is plenary over all of their children, not just their children who were born with a penis.
Thankfully they do not have this right, so eventually this nonsense will lose its inexcusable credibility. Unfortunately, I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to botch this horribly on the barely non-zero chance that it takes the case. It will rule that the child has rights, but tradition makes this practice reasonable. (The Court will, of course, dismiss the truth that female genital mutilation is performed to adhere to tradition and social expectations.) The Court will also cite subjective benefits to male circumcision while ignoring the objective harm because the risks and inevitable outcome are “minor”. Everyone but the boy’s opinion matters. So, the most achievable path to Destination Sanity is clear, but arrival is probably not imminent.
¹ Much analysis in the news and blogosphere considers the importance of the child’s age. At 13 he can make his wishes known. Yes, but the default presumption in our society – as shamefully demonstrated in the Oregon Supreme Court’s ruling – is that we must decide whether the child’s age overcomes the parent’s wishes. That is incorrect. The default must be that the child would want his healthy foreskin because the alternative is permanent. Only medical need would allow the parents to make the child’s decision until he can state that he wishes to be circumcised.