There is an old adage that says truth and justice is in the eye of the beholder.
The Wall Street Journal’s Miriam Jordan reports how a child abuse case in Oregon highlights the thorny issues of parental rights and religious freedom. The case challenges parental rights against human rights.
The issue revolves around the children of Russian-born evangelical Christians, the Kozlovs. The Kozlovs believe they have the right to discipline their children in accordance with biblical law. The discipline involved corporal punishment that left no permanent marks. Any interference with their practices they feel is an interference with their religious freedom and parental rights. The parents were eventually sentenced to seven years in prison for child abuse, and later stripped of most parental rights.
It is interesting to note, with regards to infant male circumcision, that the U.S. courts have held that parents have broad rights concerning the rearing of children. If a family’s practice is to circumcise boys, even if it ultimately goes against the wishes of the individual being circumcised, the courts deem the unnecessary, painful surgery legal and proper. The courts reason that if a group or culture practice circumcision, an infant male would be outcast if not circumcised. Therefore to prevent the child from being possibly abandoned by the group, the parental wishes are upheld.
Of course such interpretations are a double standard. When religion or customs require non-consenting circumcision, the courts and the law uphold the practice. However if religious, cultural, or group practice demands other “unconventional” treatment of children, that may be deemed illegal. So clearly there is some recognition that cultural or religious practice cannot trump human rights in all situations. Yet whom is to say which practice would make a child an outcast and which one will not.
The court’s legal interpretations have become a slippery slope of deciding where parental discretion ends, and where mutilation and abuse begins. Our society has not yet understood that parental rights should end where permanent disfigurement, pain, and abuse to non-consenting minors commences.
In the Kozlov case, the children were given corporal punishment by the parents that left no permanent marks. The children were protected by the authorities because they were able to call 911. Yet it seems the only reason infants have not been granted protection from circumcision is because they can’t speak out. Perhaps that is the reason circumcision is done in infancy.
With regards to genital mutilation, males do not have the same legal protection as females. Even though males and females are different, each male anatomical part has a corresponding part in the female anatomy. Yet the law permits forced cosmetic genital surgery of one sex (male) and protects the other (female.)
Some parents from African and Muslim nations have forced daughters to undergo female circumcision—a cutting of the genitalia that has been banned in the U.S. New York Congressman Joseph Crowley sponsored a bill further restricting this practice by making it illegal to send girls outside the U.S. for the mutilating ritual.
One must ask, with regards to non-consenting minors, who decides which practices are permissible? It seems everyone but the individual having his genitals cut gets to decide. How do parents have the right to ask doctors, and why are doctors permitted to perform non-therapeutic, cosmetic surgery, on non-consenting minors?
Certainly, when it comes to parental rights and children, truth and justice is in the eye of the beholder.