Banning Circumcision Won’t Change Reality for Children

The primary difference between adult drug use and circumcision on boys is that adults have more latitude with their own than with their children’s bodies.

The primary positive outcome I can envision for a ban on male circumcision is that Jews and Muslims would finally have a cause on which they could work together. If it starts with a piece of flesh, perhaps it will one day lead to peace.

That said, I personally oppose all medically unnecessary operations and circumcision is one such procedure. However small the risks, there are risks. I also personally oppose the use of illegal drugs (and oppose, even more strongly, the use of some legal drugs like tobacco and alcohol in excess). My preventive solution in all these cases is education rather than bans.

Alcohol prohibition was instituted in the United States in 1919, by passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. This violence-producing and unenforceable prohibition was wisely repealed in 1933 with passage of the Twenty-first Amendment. President Nixon in 1971 declared a War on Drugs, with the same problems as our war on alcohol. Unfortunately, this losing war continues even after 40 years of increased violence.

Does anyone doubt that a ban on circumcision would lead to more medical problems because the procedure would be performed underground by less qualified cutters? Circumcision, like clean needle exchanges for those injecting illegal drugs, is far less harmful than passing a law to ban it would be.

The primary difference for me between adult drug use and circumcision on little boys is that adults have more latitude with their own than with their children’s bodies. That’s why adult Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Scientists are free to refuse life-saving blood transfusions, but are not free to do so with their children. Were there strong medical evidence that circumcision caused considerable harm to boys, I would favor a ban.

In my mind, circumcision is further from child abuse than current, perfectly legal procedures initiated by parents—like teaching children religious fairy tales as fact, and shielding them from evidence-based material that includes evolution and comprehensive sex education. That’s where I worry more about the thin line between religious freedom and child abuse.


Herb Silverman Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.

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