October 11, 2012
Suit Is Filed Over Move to Regulate Circumcision
By Marc Santora
Several Jewish groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to prevent New York City from enforcing a rule on circumcisions, arguing that the regulation would violate religious freedoms.
The city Board of Health passed a regulation in September that required written parental consent before a ritual circumcision could be done. In the procedure, common among ultra-Orthodox Jews, the person performing the circumcision uses his mouth to remove blood from the incision.
The oral contact, known in Hebrew as metzitzah b’peh, is considered dangerous by public health officials, because of the possibility of spreading diseases, specifically herpes. Failure to comply with the regulation could result in warnings and fines.
From 2000 to 2011, 11 babies contracted herpes, most likely as a result of the practice, and two of them died, according to the city’s health department. This spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also declared that the procedure created a risk for transmission of herpes and other pathogens, and was “not safe.”
In the lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, several rabbis and Jewish organizations — including Agudath Israel of America and the International Bris Association — argue that the practice has been used safely for thousands of years among Jews and that the regulations are unconstitutional.
“Not only is the Department of Health wrong about metzitzah b’peh, it is trying to enforce its erroneous opinions on the people of New York City,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for the groups suing the city. “By essentially starting a public intimidation campaign that forces private citizens to spread the government’s beliefs, they are shaking the core of our democracy. We believe the courts will stop this overzealous government overreach and keep them out of our speech and religion.”
Dr. Thomas A. Farley, commissioner of the city health department, issued a statement on Thursday citing the danger posed by the procedures and arguing that the measures were necessary for public safety.
“The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children,” he said in the statement. [To fulfil that obligation it should age-restrict circumcision.] “The health department’s written consent requirement is lawful, appropriate and necessary.”