First Amendment

Parental Consent OK for Ritual Circumcision, District Judge Rules

A federal judge in Manhattan has refused to block a New York City regulation that requires parental consent for a ritual form of circumcision that health officials say can put babies at risk of potentially fatal infection.

Plaintiffs challenging the regulation sought an injunction against the change in the city’s health code, alleging the regulation is a First Amendment violation. Reuters and the New York Times (reg. req.) have stories.

At issue is a Jewish ritual metzitzah b’peh, or MBP, involving direct oral suction of the penis during circumcision, the news organizations report. Health officials maintain the practice puts infants at risk of herpes infection. The New York Times reports 12 cases of herpes simplex virus, including a case out of Brooklyn this week, have been tied to the ritual since 2000. In the reported cases, two infants have died and two suffered brain damage. The practice isn’t widely used, though the Times notes it remains common in some ultra-Orthodox communities.

The regulation’s enforcement has been delayed since September, when rabbis and the Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada and the International Bris Association requested a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs maintain the regulation doesn’t pass constitutional muster because it singles out an exclusively religious ritual, Reuters notes.

However, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald refused to block enforcement of the regulation, opining that there is “ample medical evidence that direct oral suction places infants at a serious risk of herpes infection, as well as evidence that parents are sometimes unaware in advance of a circumcision that MBP will occur.”

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