This may sound trite, but it is anything but when you consider that Jewish and Muslim religious practice is under assault in Europe after a judge in Cologne, Germany, ruled against a Muslim couple’s right to ritually circumcise their 4-year-old son. The judge ruled that circumcision is a form of mutilation and bodily harm that is not protected by religious rights.
In Austria, the Jews, Muslims and Catholic and Lutheran bishops openly called on Vienna to “issue a clear commitment to religious freedom and to the legality of male circumcision” because state hospitals are moving to ban circumcision following the German ruling. And two hospitals in Switzerland have similarly enacted a male circumcision ban.
Yascha Mounk worries that, while the movement toward a ban on circumcision may not succeed, polls show strong support for it; his concern is that the problem runs deeper.
“While the temporary ban on circumcisions is unlikely to affect Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany for more than a few months,” writes Mounk, “the outpouring of public support for it suggests that the rights of minorities may soon come under attack in different ways.”
If you think this is just an issue in Europe, remember that a proposed circumcision ban in San Francisco almost came to a vote last year. As Mark Stern, a lawyer for the American Jewish Committee said at the time, “This is the most direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States. It is unprecedented in Jewish life.”
As we know, millions of American males are circumcised not for religious reasons but because the medical profession sees it as a better option. A January 2011 article in the medical journal the Lancet concluded, “male circumcision should now be accepted as an efficacious intervention for reducing the prevalence and incidence of HPV infections in female partners,” wrote UCLA professor Norman Lavin in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. And the benefits of circumcision in the fight against AIDS are well documented by the World Health Organization.
One way to fight the German ruling is to sign a new petition by three German students — one Muslim and two Jewish. “Circumcision was and is a central element of our religions, and a covenant with God, which has been fulfilled for thousands of years without a problem — so why is it being criminalized today?” reads part of a new petition at Change.org.
But the petitioners are also touching on a more broadly important question: Why the reflex to ban our liberties — religious or otherwise?
In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and San Francisco the move is toward banning a practice based on a flawed argument and a limited view of religious liberty.
After the shooting in Aurora, Colo., recently there have been repeated calls to ban guns.
In New York City, hospitals are now banning free packages of formula for new mothers, putting the bottle formula under lock and key (like it is equivalent to morphine) and berating new mothers with lessons on why breastfeeding, and only breastfeeding, is best. Meanwhile, a ban on certain-sized sodas is taking effect.
At the Jersey Shore, cigarette smoking is banned outside on the beach, except in designated smoking areas.
In Chicago and Boston, there are moves to ban certain restaurants from opening because of the traditional views of the president and CEO, simultaneously attacking religious freedom and free speech rights.
Perhaps you don’t see the link between banning guns, smoking, chicken sandwiches, baby formula and brit milahs, but consider that a limit on religious liberty and a limit on the right to bear arms is still a limit on liberty, plain and simple. And limits on what you can do outside and what you can ingest or feed your own child are similarly outrageous. You may support one ban but how will you then be able to argue against bans you don’t like.
This week marks the 100th birthday of Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate economist and the greatest 20th-century champion of liberty, both at home and abroad. He was a hero to refuseniks in Soviet Russia and to the late, great Czech leader Vaclav Havel. And he is a hero to libertarians and conservatives here in the United States because he was a champion of free markets and individual free choice.
It should be up to our co-religionists as well as members of other faiths or those who are doing it for health reasons to choose circumcision. And in the process, we can all stand up for the cause of liberty — all kinds of liberty.
(Abby W. Schachter is a Pittsburgh-based columnist and writes the New York Post’s politics blog Capitol Punishment.)