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Pater potestas: How far can a father take it?

May 9, 2007

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Galatians 6:15

Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. Colossians 3:21

A divorced father who has converted to Judaism since the divorce is arguing in court for the right to have his son circumcised. The boy’s mother opposes the father’s petition. The father has custody of their son.

The boy is 12 years old.

The general rule in this jurisdiction is murky: the court must determine what is in “the best interest of the child.” Some advocacy groups support the father, saying that circumcision is a universally good thing because it reduces the risk of AIDS. Well ahem, there are other universally good ways to reduce the risk of AIDS that don’t involve potentially maiming, irreversible surgery.

According to this local news report, the boy told his mother he does not wish to be circumcised but is afraid to defy his father. So far the courts have shown deference to the father as the custodial parent. The procedure is considered part of the boy’s “religious upbringing,” a matter typically the bailiwick of the custodial parent.

Pretend you’re taking the Bar exam. Pretend the law of man supersedes the express law of God as clearly articulated in the New Testament. What issues come to mind, what rules do you apply, what conclusions would you draw?

Hint: First-century Roman law does not apply.

  1. May 9, 2007 6:34 pm

    I really don’t want to pretend that the law of man supersedes God’s law, but I’m really surprised that the boy didn’t have a guardian ad litem. That is basic procedure in our state.

    At this point the proper decision is to let the boy decide for himself, or wait until he is of the age of majority. It’s not like his father is Abraham with a direct command.

    In fact, I am quite certain he has no direct command. Romans 2:19-29 come to mind.

  2. May 9, 2007 6:38 pm

    Now let’s not always see the same hands. But as usual, a superb analysis, counsel.

  3. May 9, 2007 8:02 pm

    Here are some letters to the editor from The Oregonian. Oregon does have jurisdiction in this case.

  4. May 10, 2007 7:10 am

    It *should* be pretty simple:

    There’s a law saying you can’t cut any girl’s genitals any bit until she’s 18 and consents for it herself.

    We don’t allow discrimination by gender.

    Put those two together and there should be no circumcisions for any boys until they are all 18 and consent for it themselves.

  5. May 10, 2007 7:28 am

    Brian, I cannot wish this on you in good conscience, but would you consider moving to Oregon at some point and running for judge?

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