Charities allowed to promote infant mutilation if it ‘advances religion’

Charities allowed to promote infant mutilation if it ‘advances religion’ July 26, 2019

I HAD never heard of the The Initiation Society and the charity status it enjoys until I read of its existence in an op-ed published by Megan Manson on the National Secular Society’s website this week.

Initiation Society screenshot

The Initiation Society’s charitable objectives include “to initiate a Jewish child into the covenant of Abraham” and “to train mohelim and to supply mohelim“. Mohelim are Jewish men (very rarely women) who are trained to circumcise baby boys as part of the Jewish brit milah ceremony. It’s been registered with the Charity Commission since 1962 and is therefore entitled to tax exemptions, gift aid, and the “seal of approval” that registered charity status confers.

Additionally, Manson points out, there are a number of mosques across the UK that offer a circumcision “service” as part of their various activities, or maintain lists of local circumcisers.

Saying that “it may come as a surprise to people that cutting a baby’s genitals without medical need is considered a charitable activity,” Manson calls for an urgent reform of UK charity law.

Two anti-circumcision activists protesting in the US. Image via YouTube

Manson then referred to a recent BBC documentary A Cut Too Far?  that showed that increasing numbers of people, including those within Jewish and Islamic communities, are questioning the acceptance of non-therapeutic infant circumcision.

It is impossible to deny that the procedure is irreversible and performed without consent. It entails risk of a number of serious complications, including death. And it is extremely painful, both during the procedure and during recovery.

It’s no wonder that people are increasingly drawing comparisons with female genital mutilation (FGM), which is rightly banned. Dr Gordon Muir, one of the UK’s foremost urologists who was interviewed by the BBC, doesn’t recognise a difference between infant male circumcision and FGM, saying neither has significant health benefits, both entail loss of genital sensitivity, and both are unnecessary. He said he finds it difficult to understand why female genital mutilation is a criminal offence but infant male circumcision is not.

Manson then asked why are charities facilitating this harmful practice.

The answer lies in the inclusion of ‘the advancement of religion’ as one of the 13 charitable purposes recognised by charity law. The Initiation Society is listed under this classification, and no other – revealingly, it is not considered a charity for ‘the advancement of health or the saving of lives’, which is another charitable purpose. It’s therefore tacitly recognised that infant circumcision is primarily performed for religious reasons, rather than any supposed health benefits.

If the Initiation Society did want to register under ‘the advancement of health or the saving of lives’, it would probably face far more scrutiny from the Charity Commission. According to the commission, charities that register under this purpose must ‘provide robust medical evidence’ of their public benefit, as well as demonstrating their activities ‘will not result in any inappropriate harm’.

The Initiation Society would struggle with these requirements. No national medical, paediatric, surgical or urological society in the world recommends routine circumcision of all boys as a health intervention. Increasing numbers of doctors, like Dr Muir, have grave concerns that any of the widely-contested health benefits sometimes attributed to circumcision would still not justify the pain, risk and disregard for bodily autonomy that the procedure entails.

Manson argues:

As long as ‘the advancement of religion’ remains a recognised charitable purpose, it will be difficult for the Initiation Society’s charitable status to be challenged. There is no question that it is facilitating religious activities. In theory this should not in itself be sufficient for charitable status; an organisation must demonstrate that it provides a public benefit in order to be a charity.

Unfortunately, as the National Secular Society’s recent report into religious charities revealed, the Charity Commission has a blind spot when it comes to the public benefit requirement of religious charities.

The commission has been exceedingly vague on what is required of faith charities to demonstrate a public benefit, and has even assured religious organisations that it recognises the ‘benefits’ of religion are ‘intangible’. In other words, there remains a presumption that something that is religious is inherently beneficial.

This is one reason why ‘the advancement of religion’ needs to be removed as a charitable purpose. While it exists, charities that are able to demonstrate they are ‘advancing religion’ according to charity law will usually be registered with no questions asked – even if its activities are as harmful as circumcision. What’s more, by classifying religious circumcision as a charitable activity, the Charity Commission normalises and sanitises a procedure that’s increasingly recognised as a serious breach of human rights.

The presenter of A Cut Too Far? came to the conclusion that non-therapeutic infant circumcision should not be banned, but should be better regulated to minimise the risk of complications. And some will argue that having charities that train and register circumcisers is beneficial for the same reasons.

Manson concludes:

But no amount of regulation or training will take away from the fact that religious non-consensual genital cutting, be it on boys or girls, is completely at odds our 21st century understanding of medical ethics and the rights of the child. That’s why facilitating the practice can never be in the public benefit. That’s why our laws do not permit ‘regulated’ forms of FGM. And that’s yet another reason why the advancement of religion no longer belongs on the list of charitable purposes.

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  • kaydenpat

    Non-medically necessary circumcision of children should be banned. But that won’t happen since this practice is cloaked in religious dogma whether Muslim or Jewish. For some strange reason, religious adherents get away with conduct that would otherwise be condemned.

  • Raging Bee

    So they’re advocating circumcision for purely cultural and not medical reasons? They should not be able to call themselves a “charity.”

  • And in some parts of North America people probably think it’s a requirement of Christianity as well.

  • Stephen Moreton

    Another depressingly sloppy, biased piece from the National Secular Society.

    “No national medical, paediatric, surgical or urological society in the world recommends routine circumcision of all boys as a health intervention.” FALSE! Why can’t the anti-circs be bothered to even get their facts right?

    Dr Gordon Muir, who was interviewed on BBC recently also got it wrong when he claimed that Number Needed to Treat (NNT) for UTIs was in the hundreds. Aside from that still being better than many vaccines, the most recent studies give much smaller figures: 37: , 83: and 100:

    Done properly, circumcision has a wide range of benefits, infant more so than adult. It also has no adverse effect on sexual function or pleasure, the propaganda and weak cherry-picked studies of its opponents notwithstanding. Rather than seek to ban the procedure, anyone who favours science above ideology (which rules out the National Secular Society on this issue) should be campaigning for regulation. I might also add that the charity the article above attempts just that – ensuring mohelim are highly trained. That is what is needed. Meantime let the medical science settle the issue of whether circumcision is worthwhile or not, and right now the evidence is moving in circumcision’s favour.

    For more see my article:

  • John Dowdle

    What apologists like Stephen Moreton overlook is the life-long damage that is done to the physical and psychological health of affected males.
    See to hear it from an affected male.
    No one asked his permission before this appalling procedure was carried out and he is now mutilated for life.
    He is not the only one of course – there are numerous others whose lives have been ruined by this nasty procedure.
    He is sufficiently empathetic to join the call for all such genital mutilations – male and female – to be banned.

  • Mark

    Three national medical organizations (Iceland, Sweden and Germany) have called for infant male circumcision to be banned, and two others (Denmark and the Netherlands) have said they’d support a ban if they didn’t think it would drive the practice underground.

    “Routine” circumcision *is* banned in public hospitals in Australia (almost all the men responsible for this policy will be circumcised themselves, as the male circumcision rate in Australia in 1950 was about 90%).

    If it weren’t a religious thing, elective circumcision of boys would have been banned in lots of countries decades ago, same as it was for girls.

  • Freethinker

    It was when the country was first settled by the Puritan pilgrims and continued as a particularly American Christian tradition. In some circles of fairy tale interpretations they used the Bible itself to justify the mutilation of infant boys as a secondary form of baptism “By this circumcision of Christ, which is Baptism, He redeemed us who were under the Law (Galatians 3:27, 4:1)
    But most writers from the time had no qualms about speaking to the real reasons for it. Circumcision desensitizes the penis and makes masturbation much more difficult.

  • Sophotroph

    Medical science already settled it.

    There’s no benefit, and moreover it’s an irreversable maiming.

    You’d do well to take your sights off the flesh of others, lest yours come under the same eyes.

    Take your rancid propaganda and run.

  • Stephen Moreton

    None of the disapproving medical associations has even attempted an evidence-based approach. Their positions are essentially ideological. On contrast those that have attempted an evidence-based approach came out cautiously in favour (the AAP & CDC) or neutral (Canadian Ped. Soc.). That says something.

  • Stephen Moreton

    Medical has settled it in high-HIV settings. It is life-saving on a massive scale and this is now consensus amongst every professional body dealing with the epidemic: . Outside of those settings the jury is still out. The claim it has no benefits is demonstrably false. It is time intactivists desisted from spreading their poisonous propaganda which is cynically designed to make circumcised males angry, whilst endangering lives by undermining a hugely important public health initiative.

  • Sophotroph

    Thankfully, the scientific consensus is that the benefits are slight, highly conditional, and fully eclipsed by the use of safe sex practices.

    Most fatally to your argument, any male wishing to be circumsized can absolutely do so at the age of majority, before which, he should stick to flogging the bishop anyway, completely negating any neccessity for an irreversible, identity-affecting, non-consensual surgery on an infant.

    You might want to actually read your citations.

  • Mark

    All of those medical associations are fully aware of all the arguments in favor of male circumcision, including what the AAP and CDC think.

    In the words of the response to the AAP’s position statement on male circumcision (signed by 38 senior physicians, about half of them presidents or chairs of national pediatric or urological organizations):
    “The other claimed health benefits, including protection against HIV/AIDS, gen-tal her-es, gen-tal warts, and pen-le cancer, are questionable, weak, and likely to have little public health relevance in a Western context, and they do not represent compelling reasons for surgery before boys are old enough to decide for themselves.”

    I’d class the AAP & CDC positions as in favor btw (without the “cautiously”), but the CPS position as cautiously against.

  • Jhon Murdock

    There is no controlled evidence of a protective effect against HIV by non-voluntary circumcision of infants.

  • Daniel Ros

    He’s not an apologist. He’s a fetishist. He gets his rocks off on screaming children.

  • Raging Bee

    No, liar, their positions are not “ideological,” they’re ETHICAL: the permanent mutilation of ANY body part — especially those of a non-consenting child — without clear medical necessity, is a clear violation of one of the most basic principles of medical ethics. No amount of peer-reviewed science overrides that imperative.

  • Raging Bee

    As with vaccines very rarely things go wrong…

    Your analogy fails because vaccines do not cause PERMANENT injury to any body part.

  • Raging Bee

    Read his own citations?! How can a man Gish-Gallop when he’s distracted by reading?! That’s dangerous!

  • Raging Bee

    Actually, Moreton says he had himself cut by choice as an adult. So of course he’s now so emotionally invested in his choice that he has to convince everyone (and possibly himself?) that it’s the right thing for everyone else.

    EDIT: Oops, you were talking about someone else. Sorry…

  • Raging Bee

    Moreton, and his even more odious fellow 69circumfetishist Brian Morris, are basically functioning as the Bill Donohues of the pro-circ lobby, saying whatever they think sounds good without regard to truth, logic, documented facts or reality, and getting away with it because: a) everyone else in the pro-circ movement needs them because there’s really no better case to be made for circ anymore; and b) the media still feel they have to get “balance” whenever they publish anything questioning circumcision, and thus they have to get someone like Moreton or Morris to “balance” decent investigative journalism with raw sewage.

  • Raging Bee

    And Brian Morris is even worse.

  • Raging Bee

    Similarly, what about those whose lives are ruined, even terminated, by falls and accidents caused by running, that could have been prevented had they had their toes cut off before they started walking?
    Don’t they count too?

  • Raging Bee

    I suggest we all copy the whole of the comments here, and shove all those various citations in Moreton’s face whenever and wherever he shows up to push his baby-mutilating agenda.

  • Raging Bee

    It also has no adverse effect on sexual function or pleasure…

    Plenty of circumcised men have experiences that disprove your allegation. Enough to sink your credibility and prove you’re a liar acting with reckless disregard for verifiable truth.

  • Raging Bee

    I notice the guy’s doctor did NOT say the guy’s circumcision was unusual or botched or in any way not done “correctly” or according to established procedure. That just makes the whole thing even worse.