|Turkish Boys Dressed for Circumcision|
In Christian circles it is a topic that does surface a bit more since the Bible mentions it numerous times. The letters of Paul and the book of Acts recount some of the debates over circumcision that took place in the early church. And even though the New Testament comes down against the requirement of circumcision for gentile Christians, most in the USA are circumcised, but not for religious reasons.
But outside of the USA the topic is looked at quite differently. I remember an American couple living in the UK who were trying to get their newborn son circumcised. No hospital or doctor would do it. The couples had to find a local Rabbi to perform the procedure. The locals who were part of our small group were quite vocal that the child should not be circumcised since they considered it barbaric. It was my first encounter with anyone who was opposed to the practice. For me, it was just what happened in life.
During my recent trip to Turkey I witnessed a different take on the practice. While it is banned in the UK and quietly done in the USA, it is celebrated in Turkey. There the boy is not circumcised until he is eight years old. The day is a big party and friends and family are invited to witness the procedure. A few days prior to that day the young boy walks around with a special hat with feathers and a sort of cloak (see pic above). Everyone knows that this means his day of circumcision is soon approaching. I cringed several times as I walked through the streets of Istanbul and saw a young boy with a hat and feather.
I bring this up because the practice of religious circumcision has been in the news twice lately.
In Germany, a judge has ruled that the practice must be banned because it commits bodily harm on the young boy. Muslims and Jews have reacted against the ruling. In New York, health officials are considering banning one form of circumcision since it can cause the infant to contract herpes.
Another recent example of the state imposing its will on religious practice, though not because of health concerns, is France's ban on Muslim women wearing headscarves.
My question is this. To what degree does the state have jurisdiction over the freedom of religious practice? Can or should the state ban a practice if it deems it to be harmful? I am not aware of any states that allow animal sacrifice, and even the use of animals in worship, as with snake handlers, is usually banned. But at what point does the state have the right to stop a religion from carrying out its practice?