this country we have freedom of religion like all other secular
countries and it is a freedom which is supposed to entitle people the
freedom to believe what they want, and practise what they want without
interference from the State.
some religious groups abuse this freedom and act in ways which we
would usually call inhumane. We sometimes refrain from calling these
acts inhumane just because they are the acts of a religious group.
two religious customs I believe should be explicitly illegal, based
on the harm they inflict on the individual and the individual’s
interests they ignore, are circumcision (or genital mutilation) and the koshering of meat.
The technique of killing in producing kosher meat is basically
the same as the technique used in producing halal meat, so they can
be equally compared.
first start off with why circumcision should be prevented in this
religious context. About a year ago my cousin had a son and being
Jewish it was natural for him to call in a ‘Mohel’ and have his son
circumcised. I was invited to the bris (Jewish ritual of
circumcision) and I was interested to see what the ritual involved.
During the hour long process, however, my curiosity changed to
disgust. I felt like stopping this scalpel-wielding stranger hacking
the skin off this baby’s genitals. Imagine for a second that this
practice never existed amongst an organised group. Now imagine an
individual being in someone’s home slicing off the foreskin of
someone else’s newborn infant. We would either send that person to
jail for child abuse or to a psychiatric ward if they pleaded
Children Act of 1989 gives the NSPCC statutory powers to protect
children when they’re at risk, but the NSPCC would not be allowed to
prevent circumcisions. Why? Well there is no reason, except that it
is expected of politicians and the general public to respect what
religious groups do in private. But when one individual harms
another, without consent, then this calls for State intervention.
the foreskin of an infant violates that infant’s freedom, as well as
the infant’s interest in not being harmed. Its also worth noting that
the Mohels who do the circumcising are not trained in anaesthesia,
nor are their implements sterile, considering that the bris happens
in the home and not in a hospital. So I think under the Children Act
(1989) the practice of circumcision on non-consenting boys or girls
should be considered child abuse and warrants the State to condemn
it, just as it condemns child molestation, neglection and other forms
of abuse. The only way in which circumcision should be allowed to
exist, in a religious and non-medical context, is by the individual
deciding to have it done as a consenting adult.
wager that if this is how circumcision really worked, by individuals
consenting at a mature age, there would be increasingly fewer people
being circumcised on the basis of faith.
also worth a reminder that the foreskin, or prepuce, exists for a
reason and serves several biological functions. Some include:
preventing chafing, increased sexual pleasure, (the prepuce has the
most nerve endings compared to the rest of the penis), prevention of
infection during early age. And the list goes on…
Also, here is a fascinating article on common misconceptions and myths surrounding circumcision. Circumcision, without anaesthesia, is a painful form of mutilation which carries many health risks and long-term psychological problems.
quick side note, it is worth mentioning that the Prohibition of
Female Circumcision Act was passed in 1985 and makes it a criminal
offence for one to remove or mutilate a female’s genitalia for
cultural or religious reasons. There is no act, however, which says it
is a criminal offence to mutilate the genitals of a boy for religious
reasons. This is nothing short of a double standard.
second religious custom which I think goes against a good conscience
and should not be protected by law, is koshering. Kosher food is any
food which is prepared in conjunction with certain requirements
stated in the Torah (or the Koran). It does not matter why kosher
meat is holy and non-kosher meat unholy; all that matters is the
process by which kosher meat is produced.
example, some pious Jews ironically claim that koshering is a much
more humane process than the normal method of stunning the animal so
it is immediately unconscious. The exact opposite is the case. In
both Jewish and Muslim practices the cow will first be paralysed
before it is killed to ensure that it cannot resist the mutilation
about to come. The next step involves making a deep incision into the
cow’s throat and then it is left to writhe in pain for about 20
minutes before it finally dies. This method of killing is called
exsanguination and translated from the latin it literally
means “bleed to death.”
Animal Weflare Act of 2006 clearly states that a person commits a
legal offence if they cause unnecessary suffering towards an animal,
either from action or inaction. The Act also states that any
responsible person working within the meat industry has a duty to
promote the welfare of animals and to reduce suffering at all costs.
I recently found footage of a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville,
Iowa and it is clear from it that koshering animals is not more
humane than other industrial methods. In order to make your own
judgement watch the video yourself.
reason kosher slaughterhouses still exist, despite their breaking the
law, is because faith in a ‘holy’ book can be used to justify almost
anything. Imagine a baby having its throat cut and then left to die
for 20 minutes as it chokes on blood. There is no justification for
this. And yet both human infants and mammals over the age of 1 have
the same pain threshold and feel the sensation of pain in the same
way. Therefore, it is irrational to say a baby slaughterhouse is inhumane,
whilst a kosher slaughterhouse is not. Since all sentient mammals
have the interest not to be harmed, and since this interest is
protected in the Animal Weflare Act (2006), kosher slaughterhouses
should be boycotted with the goal of shutting them down.