Faith

Dubious Defense of Female Genital Mutilation in Michigan

Why these lawyers are claiming a religious exemption in this first U.S. case on the practice

A debate over the genital cutting of children has now reached American courts: Two Detroit-area doctors and the wife of one of them were charged in April for crimes in relation to the female circumcision of two seven-year-old girls from Minnesota.

“Dr. Jumana Nagarwala, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, and Attar’s wife, Farida, are charged with female genital mutilation, conspiracy, and other crimes,” the Associated Press reported late last month. The three are part of Dawoodi Bohra, a small Indian Muslim sect with a mosque in Farmington Hills, according to media reports.

“It is hard for me to imagine any court accepting the religious freedom defense, given the harm that’s being dealt.”

The two Minnesota girls apparently had “scarring and abnormalities on their clitorises and labia minora,” according to a report in the Detroit Free Press, which cited court documents. The publication also referenced the “growing federal investigation into female genital mutilation” in this country.

The controversial practice of female genital mutilation is illegal in the United States — yet it has taken place in Detroit, among other places.

“This brutal practice is conducted on girls for one reason: to control them as women,” said Dan Lemisch, the acting U.S. attorney in Detroit, the AP reported.

Related: Why Pro-Life Cal State Students Were Forced to Sue Their School 

An estimated 200 million girls and women around the world have undergone genital mutilation, according to the World Health Organization.

“Half a million of them are in the U.S.,” Public Radio International reported in April. “In 1996 the U.S. passed a law criminalizing the practice, and also making it illegal to send a girl abroad to undergo the procedure. But just last week, a doctor in Michigan became the first person in the country to be arrested on charges of performing mutilations.”

In some cultures, the practice is a normal cultural event.

“Immigration to the U.S. from African and Middle Eastern countries — where the practice of [female genital mutilation] is a deeply entrenched cultural tradition — is the sole factor for the rise in numbers,” said Mark Mather, a demographer at PRB who led the data analysis, Newsweek reported in February 2015.

Related: Why Pro-Life Cal State Students Were Forced to Sue Their School

In Michigan, the lawyers for the doctors claim religious reasons and rights for the procedure that was performed on the young girls.

“It is hard for me to imagine any court accepting the religious-freedom defense given the harm that’s being dealt in this case,” First Amendment expert Erwin Chemerinsky said, according to the Detroit Free Press.

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“I can’t imagine any court that would say that the parents’ right to practice their religion gives them the right to inflict this harm on their daughters,” Chemerinsky added.

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