The Politics of Ritual Circumcision

Event Details

The Politics of Ritual Circumcision

Time: August 29, 2013 to September 1, 2013
Location: American Political Science Association annual meeting
City/Town: Chicago, IL
Website or Map:
Phone: 215-701-9072
Event Type: presentation
Organized By: American Political Science Association
Latest Activity: Aug 26, 2013

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Event Description

At the annual meeting for the American Political Science Association, Nate Walker will present a paper for Division 33: Religion and Politics for the"Religion and Liberalism in Tension" panel titled "God Told Me So: The Politics of Religious Circumcision"


        “We want our daughter circumcised,” said the parents to their pediatrician. When asked why, the parents expressed sincere religious beliefs. Constitutionally, should the parents be granted a religious exemption from the law passed by the US Congress in 1996 that forbids female circumcision? If so, on what grounds? If not, why not? Would the same answers be applicable if the parents were religiously motivated to have their son circumcised?

          In this survey of legal exemptions of religious rites, I will present 27 types of genital-altering religious rituals used to conduct irreversible physical surgeries on female and male children. I will then focus on the contemporary attempts to regulate ritual circumcision on males and counter attempts to legally exempt the rite. I will also examine the political rhetoric of “mutilation” versus “circumcision” when comparing the incongruence in laws that protect female children but not male children.

          I begin by exploring a sampling of cases in the United States that have justified legal restrictions on religious practices, such as polygamy, child preaching, and parents using faith-based reasons for refusing medical interventions for their children. I will use these cases to articulate nine legal and ethical principles: child welfare, harm to others, substantial harm, direct consent, self-determination, no-preference in religion, safety, nondiscrimination and equal protection. I will use these principles to set the stage to articulate what I call the God told me so doctrine and then apply it to the politics of ritual circumcision. The primary question that drives my analysis is whether religious accommodations should be granted if the religious practice in question infringes on the rights of children. Put simply, if God tells me to circumcise my child, will the state stop me?

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