It’s official. A controversial petition effort has succeeded in San Fransisco. This November, the city’s voters will decide whether or not to ban infant circumcision.
If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.
This would be the first ban of its kind in the United States. It would undoubtedly trigger litigation from religious groups alleging a First Amendment violation. Circumcision has religious significance for Jews and Muslims.
While religious freedom is surely threatened by the San Fran proposal, the larger threat is against parental rights. The vote evokes a question which serves as a litmus test separating libertarians from communitarians. Are parents the natural custodians of their children, or mere civil guardians beholden to the judgment of others?
“Parents are really guardians, and guardians have to do what’s in the best interest of the child. It’s [the child's] body. It’s his choice,” said Lloyd Schofield, the measure’s lead proponent and a longtime San Francisco resident, who said the cutting away of the foreskin from the penis is a more invasive medical procedure than many new parents or childless individuals realize.
Schofield’s view of the parental role is instructive of the Left’s war against parenthood. Unfortunately, the emotions evoked wherever children are concerned drive many well-meaning conservatives toward the same line of thinking.
Opponents of parental rights like Schofield imagine some esoteric distinction between individual rights and parental authority. If an adult wants to [fill in the blank], that’s one thing. But they don’t have the right to force it on their children.
This position is extremely problematic. It betrays a flawed view of individual rights, if not an outright rejection of them.
Who gets to determine what is in the best interest of a child? Surely, children cannot be expected to make such decisions on their own. So who may act in their stead? Parents are the only individuals with any natural claim upon that role.
In a free society, the only prohibition is against harming another. The mistake opponents of parental rights make is regarding children as that other, as if they are distinct from their parents, as if they are mere roommates whose agency is violated by parental intrusion. Of course, children are not independent agents. They are wards subject to the judgment of their custodians. Evoking their rights is therefore evoking parental rights. The threshold for state encroachment upon parental judgment is no different than the threshold for state encroachment upon individual judgment. They are, quite literally, one and the same.
This is not a frivolous issue. It strikes at the core of fundamental American values – religious freedom, natural law, and individual rights. What is the principle which informs our regard for those rights? Do we let people act upon their own judgment because they always make rational decisions? Do we let people act upon their own judgment because they agree with us? Or do we let people act upon their own judgment because it is their inherent right to do so, whether they are rational or not, whether their judgment aligns with ours our not?
The answer is well established. The entire concept of religious freedom proceeds from it. Your religion does not have to make sense to me. Your decisions do not require my approval. Your actions are not subject to my judgement. How quickly that falls by the wayside once we imagine the state as parent.