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Blog Posted in avatar   Steve Hayes's Blog

A question of rights

By Steve Hayes
Posted Jun 28, 2012 in
A court in Germany has ruled that circumcision of a boy for religious reasons constitutes an assault. The court took the view that the child's rights take precedence over the parents' rights to religious freedom. The judgement has inflamed religious passions.
The ruling has been condemned by both Muslim and Jewish religious leaders. Ali Demir, the Chairman of the German Islamic Religious Community, branded the ruling as discriminatory and asserted that it would harm communal relations. This view was echoed by Aiman Mayzek of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, who said, 'Religious freedom is very important in our constitution and cannot become the pawn of a one-dimensional ruling that also further strengthens existing prejudices and clich├ęs about this issue.' Such views were reinforced by Germany's Central Council of Jews, which claimed the ruling constituted an 'unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the right to self-determination of religious communities.' Herr Graumann, the head of the Council, went on to condemn the ruling as an 'outrageous and insensitive act.'
The expressions of condemnation have not been confined to Germany. Deidre Berger of the American Jewish Committee accused the court of a 'lack of understanding of basic religious freedom.' Berger called on the German parliament to uphold the rights of religious minorities.
Yet the chorus of religious objections merely demonstrate an inability to understand the simple fact that human rights are individual rights. Individual human beings have rights, not collections. Islam does not have rights. Nor does Judaism. How could a religion have rights? Religions are simply beliefs, ideas, abstractions; they are not people. Religions do not suffer; they do not live. In the case at the heart of this controversy, the judges rightly recognised the child's rights. That recognition in no way denied or violated the parents' rights to their religion. The ruling merely prevents religious beliefs from being exploited as a justification for harming a child.