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The Iona Blog

Court ruling restricts real choice for children

Author: Tom O'Gorman
Date: 29th June 2012

The decision of a German court to attack circumcision is yet another example of state encroachment on religious liberty.

The rationale of the ruling appears to be based on the notion that children should be allowed to choose religions and tradition for themselves, rather than having their parents choose their faith.

The court held: "The religious freedom of the parents and their right to educate their child would not be unacceptably compromised, if they were obliged to wait until the child could himself decide to be circumcised.

"The body of the child is irreparably and permanently changed by a circumcision. This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs."

Superficially, this seems to respect the freedom of the child. This is a mirage however.

It is a mirage based on two conceits. The first is that there is a neutral space in which children can make a free and informed choice as to which faith or tradition to choose.

But there is no such neutral vantage point, a fact that is being consistently made in the context of the debate over the patronage of schools.

The contributions of the Government's Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, and before it the Irish Human Rights Council to this debate were based on the premise that the absence of religion constitutes a neutral educational space. But the very idea that religion is something that children need in some sense to be protected from springs from a fully-formed world view, ie secular liberalism.

Secular liberalism, which is either very sceptical of, or hostile to, religion, consists of a series of beliefs, and is not neutral.

Secondly, secular liberalism is also the dominant strain of thought pervading our culture. If parents don't give their children their own faith tradition, children will have no “choice” at all. The default choice is the very secular liberalism which proclaims itself as the neutral space in which children can choose between religious traditions.

If children are to have any choice at all, it must be provided by parents giving their children a faith tradition against which children, as they grow, can measure the dominant secular liberal culture.

Rulings which restrict religious freedom, like the one condemning circumcision in Germany, end up hindering parents' ability to give their children real choice.

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