Circumcision Controversies

A couple of weeks ago, Ron Colombo posted about a German regional court’s ruling that the circumcision of an infant boy,  requested by the boy’s parents for religious reasons, qualifies as a crime under German law. An English translation of the case is now available. A Muslim doctor circumcised a four-year old boy at the request of his parents, who wished to comply with Islamic law. German prosecutors charged the doctor with the crime of physically mistreating another person, but the trial court acquitted him. On appeal, the Cologne Regional Court held that, although the doctor was excused by reason of mistake, he had nonetheless committed a crime. Circumcision in these circumstances violates the child’s right to bodily integrity, the court held, and his right to decide for himself whether to be circumcised when he reaches adulthood. In the court’s words, “Circumcision for the purpose of religious upbringing constitutes a violation of physical integrity, and if it is actually necessary, it is at all events unreasonable.”

Although the court’s ruling obviously affects Muslims in Germany, it affects Jews as well, who, like Muslims, hold circumcision to be a religious obligation. Indeed, the Conference of European Rabbis has called an emergency meeting in Berlin this week to decide how to respond to the ruling. Meanwhile, religious circumcision is also causing a controversy here in New York. In a version of the circumcision ritual used by ultra-Orthodox Jews, the “metzitzah b’peh,” the person who performs the circumcision must suck the resulting blood from the infant’s circumcised penis. This action potentially exposes the infant to a fatal herpes infection — though some doctors discount the risk –and the New York City Board of Health has proposed a new regulation requiring that parents consent in writing before a metzizah b’peh is performed. A hearing on the proposed regulation will take place later this month.

Hanna, “Naked Truth”

From the University of Texas Press, a new book arguing that legal restrictions on strip clubs are part of a theocratic plot to supplant constitutional government in America: Judith Lynne Hanna, Naked Truth: Strip Clubs, Democracy, and a Christian Right (2012). Who knew? The publisher’s description follows.

Across America, strip clubs have come under attack by a politically aggressive segment of the Christian Right. Using plausible-sounding but factually untrue arguments about the harmful effects of strip clubs on their communities, the Christian Right has stoked public outrage and incited local and state governments to impose onerous restrictions on the clubs with the intent of dismantling the exotic dance industry. But an even larger agenda is at work, according to Judith Lynne Hanna. InNaked Truth, she builds a convincing case that the attack on exotic dance is part of the activist Christian Right’s “grand design” to supplant constitutional democracy in America with a Bible-based theocracy.

Hanna takes readers onstage, backstage, and into the community and courts to reveal the conflicts, charges, and realities that are playing out at the intersection of erotic fantasy, religion, politics, and law. She explains why exotic dance is a legitimate form of artistic communication and debunks the many myths and untruths that the Christian Right uses to fight strip clubs. Hanna also demonstrates that while the fight happens at the local level, it is part of a national campaign to regulate sexuality and punish those who do not adhere to Scripture-based moral values. Ultimately, she argues, the naked truth is that the separation of church and state is under siege and our civil liberties—free speech, women’s rights, and free enterprise—are at stake.

Winston (ed.), “The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media”

News stories involving religion in one way or another — whether in legal, cultural, or political affairs — seem to be increasing.  Each day, one notices more and more news items that deal with religion.  That is one reason why The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media (OUP 2012), edited by Diane Winston (USC) is a welcome and very useful contribution to the sociology of religion literature.  The publisher’s description of this massive work follows.

Once relegated to the private sphere, or confined to its own section of the newspaper, religion is now a major part of daily news coverage. Every journalist needs a basic knowledge of religion to cover everything from presidential elections to the war in Iraq to the ethical issues raised by latest developments in medical research. The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media will be the go-to volume for both secular and religious journalists and journalism educators, scholars in media studies, journalism studies, religious studies, and American studies. Comprised of six sections, the first examines the history of the mass media and the role religion played in its growth. The second looks at how the major media formats–print, broadcast, and online–deal with religion. The next two examines how journalists cover major religious traditions and particular issues that have religion angles. The fifth examines the religious press, from the Christian Broadcasting Network to The Forward. The final section looks at how the American press covers the rest of the world.