Is Religious Circumcision of Male Infants Morally Defensible?

Last month a court in Cologne, Germany ruled against allowing the circumcision of children too young to give consent. CBS News summarized the facts:

a German court ruled that circumcision infringes on a child’s right to be protected from bodily harm.

The regional court in Cologne said that circumcision went against the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents.” They added that religious freedom would not be curtailed because the child would be able to choose later whether he wanted to have a circumcision. However, if the parents decided for the boy, it changed the body of the child “irreparably and permanently” and went against that child’s rights to choose his religious beliefs.

“The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised,” the court added.

The ruling has now set a precedent that anyone in the future who performs a circumcision on a child not old enough to consent could potentially be breaking the law.

The YouTube description of the video above introduces the dialogue participants and background materials:

Ari Kohen is Schlesinger Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Program at the University of Nebraska. Brian D. Earp is a Research Associate at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. In this clip, they debate the ethics of religiously motivated circumcision.

Here is Ari’s academic page:
Here is Brian’s academic page:

Here are their duelling blog posts.

Brian’s at Practical Ethics:…

Ari’s at Running Chicken:

Andrew Sullivan also weighed in in favor of the court’s ruling.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.