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Monday, June 18, 2012

Freedom of Religion and Children

Does freedom of religion mean the right to enforce your religion on your children?  I know that there are some extremes we will not allow.  You can't use sharia law to justify killing your daughter who had premarital sex, or use Leviticus to justify killing your homosexual son.  We won't allow religious people to hide behind their dogma to beat their children, but it seems to be fine to verbally abuse them using religious texts.  They can certainly use their religious beliefs to dictate their children's diets, education and clothing.  They can force them to to attend their religious rituals and participate in their ceremonies.

I'm not going to use this entire post to bash circumcision, but it is a problem.  Recently in the news, a baby boy died and 10 others were hospitalized because of an ultra-traditional bris.  What was so traditional about it?  Orogenital suction after removal of the foreskin.  Know what that means?  The mohel sucks the blood off the bleeding penis!  How is this legal?  How is this not considered sexual molestation of a child?  Sadistic molestation, at that, since the poor kid is screaming in pain after cosmetic surgery preformed on his genitals without anesthesia while this is going on.  Of course, to any normal or rational person, this sounds like a bad idea, since the human mouth is riddled with bacteria and microorganisms that could possibly harm a newborn baby with an immature immune system.  The mohel in this case had the herpes virus in his mouth.  Herpes is far more dangerous to a baby than it is to an adult, as indicated by the one death and 10 hospitalizations.

I would go so far as to argue that non-religious circumcision (though pointless, painful, mutilating and unnecessarily traumatic) is better for the child than a bris.  At least in a medical environment there is a chance that the child will have some sort of anesthesia, that the environment will be sterile, and the child will be observed for possible complications.

But it is their right to do this to their kids, right?  Freedom of religion.  What about the rights of the children?  No baby boy has the power to say no to his circumcision (or I daresay there would be no circumcised men,) no child has the right to refuse their parents' religious homeschooling and attend public school to better prepare themselves for college, no sick child has the right to access medicine (unless they're on death's doorstep and someone intercedes in time) if their parents believe only in prayer for healing, and no child has the right to refuse religious ceremonies/rituals/teachings that they disagree with until they are 18 or they are emancipated.

Why is this? Why are we so fast to defend the rights of adults to be free to express and practice their religion, but the rights of their children who may disagree with them are so utterly dismissed?  Children have the ability to think, and therefore to decide how they think the universe works.  Why can't they come to their own conclusions and have those conclusions protected?

Enforcement of one's religion on children is child abuse, as far as I'm concerned.  Children can be forced to fast for Ramadan, to attend Catholic catechism, to don skirts and dresses only in the name of "propriety" if they are girls in a fundamentalist family, to attend "counseling" to reject the "gay lifestyle," to sit still for hours listening to sermons that amount to little more than hate speech, and all this is considered normal and protected.

Is this where our modern conservative movement got the idea that it's fine to enforce one's religious beliefs on the rest of the populace?  It makes sense to me that children, who were forced to acquiesce to their parents' beliefs, now think it's fine as adults to force the entire nation to accept their dogma as law. There is no other reason to have a National Day of Prayer, the words "under god" in the pledge of allegiance, a 10 Commandments monument on public property, or the ridiculous new restrictions on abortion.

It is true that most children are not raised in religiously oppressive or harmful homes, but I think it's important to consider the rights of children who are.  Worse than their inability to leave as the abuse is happening, is the 18 years of brainwashing they can legally be subjected to, possibly changing their minds in the end, and allowing the cycle to continue.

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