Religious Practices: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Seriously, I’m asking because I think it’s such a difficult question to answer.

A friend of mine is big on anti-circumcision advocacy, and she posts articles about it on her FaceBook page pretty frequently. (Yup, I’ve talked about birth choice and breastfeeding, and now I’m gonna mention circumcision-the newborn parenting trifecta!) She is against all types of circumcision, both male and female, religious and non-religious. (I won’t mention my own feelings out of deference to my son’s privacy.)

Recently she posted an article which grabbed my attention. In it a proud Islamic mom is recounting her baby daughter’s circumcision, gushing about how good the baby was and how quick and easy it was. (I should mention that in this particular case, the way the procedure was done was that they removed the teeniest, tiniest piece of skin. Basically just enough to draw a drop of blood.) As you can imagine there were loads of comments calling her excitement over this procedure barbaric….and that got me wondering why we (in the US) are so up in arms about female circumcision, but so comfortable with male circumcision. Why do we classify someone else’s religious prescriptions as barbaric and our own as normal?

Now, most parents in the US circumcise their boys for secular reasons, and that’s not the argument that is intriguing to me because with secular arguments you can go back and forth and try to convince the other side of your point of view, but as soon as it becomes a religious issue it’s difficult to argue. And that got me wondering, when someone claims religious freedom for a particular practice, when is it OK and when is it over the line?

Now my musings on this go beyond circumcision to all types of religious and cultural practices. Things like mores for female modesty (male modesty never seems to be in the picture though…hmm). Many religions expect long skirts, and sleeves and high collars, some require that and head coverings, and some veils. Are all those okay, and if so, why then do we become outraged at the thought of the niqab or burqa?

Christian Scientists will seek medical help for things like broken bones, but not illnesses, while Jehovah’s Witnesses will not accept blood transfusions. As a healthcare professional, and not a member of one of those religions, I don’t agree with or understand those beliefs, but I can’t force someone to accept treatment in opposition to their faith. Where is the line there? Someone deciding for themselves is one thing, but what about when there’s a child involved and it’s a matter of life and death?

I couldn't afford heath insurance so I became a Christian Scientist.

Then there is the religion debate that I really don’t understand, the line between personal religious/moral conviction and expanding it to the broader community. Here we’re talking about things like amending the Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman, teaching creationism in public school science classes and my all time favorite (where, oh where is the sarcasm font when you need it) abstinence-only sex ed classes.

Ignore the naughty bits!

So I put it to you dear reader. What are your thoughts about the line between religious freedoms and other freedoms? Please comment and let me know your perspective. I look forward to hearing from you.