We have discussed here repeatedly various religious/secular controversies that require the balancing of interests. We have also repeatedly discussed why I believe — and many commenters don’t — that infant circumcision should be protected as a religious right. And now, there is a story out of New York in which I think the government can show a compelling interest in regulating circumcision. From the New York Times story:

The New York City Board of Health unanimously passed a regulation on Thursday that will require consent from parents before an infant can have a form of Jewish ritual circumcision, prevalent in parts of the ultra-Orthodox community, in which the circumciser uses his mouth to remove blood from the incision. In a morning meeting, the nine-member panel of doctors and public health professionals said that thoug the regulation had been challenged by some Orthodox Jewish religious authorities as an unconstitutional infringement of their religious freedom, the risk of disease from the ancient procedure was serious enough to warrant action.

Indeed, some panel members said they believed that requiring consent did not go far enough. “It’s crazy that we allow this to go on,” said Dr. Joel A. Forman, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Infectious disease experts widely agree that the oral contact creates a risk of transmission of herpes that can be deadly to infants, because of their underdeveloped immune systems. Between 2004 and 2011, the city learned of 11 herpes infections it said were most likely caused by the practice. Two of those babies died; at least two others suffered brain damage.

Circumcision should be protected generally, but I would have voted yes on this ordinance, and indeed, agree that it is acceptable for the city to ban the mouthing practice altogether.

This is how freedom of religion works in the USA. There is an urgent religious reason to allow Jews (and Muslims) to circumcise. This regulation protects that right. There is an urgent need also to ensure that the procedure is carried out with proper sanitary protections. This regulation could go farther to accomplish that goal. The American Way seeks proper balances for religious and secular imperatives, and in this example, I think we see a good illustration of how that works in practice.

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Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC