Monday, December 24, 2007

Divorce, Religion, and Circumcision: What A Conflict Tells Us About Parental Rights

"To get a sense of how completely secular people who are not already committed to religious practices [and circumcision] might view things, consider the following analogy:
A couple tells its 5-year-old child at bedtime every night that if he ever feels any anger at his mom and dad, then a monster will come to him at night in his sleep and smother him with a pillow. Each morning, when he wakes up un-smothered, his parents tell him that if he was in fact harboring angry feelings toward them, then the monster in question will save up the smothering and one day come and suffocate him for all of eternity. Imagine, as well, that when the child reaches the age of 6, his parents remove half of their son's left pinky toe. They argue that he can walk adequately without it, and they feel a very strong compulsion to remove what they view as ugly and impure.

Most of us would find this behavior outrageous and even criminal."

Sherry F. Colb,, Nov. 28, 2007
This article deal in particular with the Boldt case were a divorced father, newly converted to Judaism wants his 12-year-old son to be circumcised, while his mother doesn't.

I'll add her closing words too (regarding the Boldt case):

"It is when parents disagree with each other and ask the courts to step in that we are uniquely able to consider some of the harm to which people expose their offspring. The Boldt case thus may, in this way, help us focus on what is otherwise "routine" in parenting and perhaps become more sensitive to the sorts of harm that we might otherwise continue to take for granted."
This is very true. I know that a lot of people will almost always prefer that the parents decide everything for the children, rather than the state. But as we can see, it's not so clear cut when parents disagree. Suddenly the question isn't about the parents' rights (because both parents have rights and they have different preferences), but about the boy's rights. And then one have to ask: Why aren't we always thinking about the rights of the children?

I've always considered myself a bit of a libertarian, or "liberalist" which is the word used here around. They are not entirely the same, and I'm in danger of mixing things here. Worse, I'm not a true libertarian, I assume. It's just the skewed perspective I have since I'm living in the Norwegian welfare state. Wanting longer opening hours to buy alcohol makes me feel like a libertarian while in USA I'd be Liberal I guess. Exhibit A: My score at the Political Compass.

Nevermind, I'm thinking about a very specific thing here that is probably common, that the state should stay out of parenting.
The idea has a flaw that sometimes becomes very ugly. It's a bit like the flaw of pacifism. It works fine as long as people won't try to kill you or torment you. But it's utter shit the moment there are malevolent murderers on your door. I'm with Sam Harris all the way on that issue.
Now, libertarianism holds that people are smart enough to chose for themselves. Perhaps. But another thing is that they also should be allowed to make their own decisions, even bad ones. I'm not optimistic about everyone's decisions, least of all my own, but not all decisions are cause of concern. Who cares if Boldt Senior chops of a piece of his dick? But should Boldt Senior be allowed to make a bad decision for Boldt junior? In general: do parents have an unalienable right to screw up their kids' life?
Among libertarians, there's always an appreciation for the individual. And I share that. But the boy who is circumcised is an individual. The girl who must wear a hijab is an individual. The children who are sent off to a loony religious school to be brainwashed are individuals. Children of Jehovas Witnesses who die because they don't get blood are individuals. The family, however, is not an individual.

Consequently: state interference is perfectly fine when it protects the rights of the children to avoid getting tortured for religious reasons by parents or getting their brains dumbed down to accept that the earth is 5000 years old.

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