state-mandated bris


The Florida government is once again trespassing into territory that should more rightly be an exclusive family matter: the proposed genital mutilation of a 4½-year-old boy—more popularly known as circumcision. Admittedly, the facts of the case are complicated, but they are more about the rights and prerogatives of the adults involved (that is, the parents, judge and police), than the rights of the child, which appear to be mostly ignored.

The origins of this potential crime against the child lie in a parenting agreement signed by the mother, Heather Hironimus, 31, and the boy’s father, Dennis Nebus, at the time of the boy’s birth. The parents had a six-month relationship but were never married. They signed an agreement on shared parenting, which included a clause stating that the father would schedule and pay for any circumcision procedure.

Nebus waited to exercise the circumcision option until the boy was three years old. In the intervening time there were two important developments. The first was Hironimus had learned more about the consequences of circumcision, including risks of complications from either the procedure or the anesthetics involved. Like an ever-growing number of parents, she came to understand that the supposed health benefits to circumcision are spurious and do not justify the risks and the loss of bodily integrity. The second was that the boy, now 4½, had grown old enough to have an opinion as to what should happen to his own penis and decided he did not want bits of it cut off by a doctor.

The father has called circumcision “just the normal thing to do.” Whatever.

Judge GillenNonetheless, in 2014, Florida judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen of the 15th judicial district in Palm Beach County ruled that in signing the original parenting agreement, Hironimus had signed away any right to change her mind at any time, and lost the power to object to the permanent surgical mutilation of her son. In mid-February, since their last scheduled doctor’s visit, Hironimus and the boy went missing for three months, during which they were in hiding at a domestic violence refuge.

sfl-circumcision-court-case-photo1-20150306Nebus testified at a hearing in March that he visited the home of the mother to take the boy for his prearranged visiting time and found no one home. The car was also gone, and when he tried calling Hironimus, he said the phone was turned off. Forgive me for expressing an opinion, but this guy looks like someone who thinks with his dick, and he must have suffered an accidental lobotomy while he was being circumcised as an infant.

What man with all his marbles would wait until his son was three to have the boy strapped down on his back, anesthetized, irreversibly mutilated, then sutured? What kind of father but an obstinate boor would risk his son’s lifelong enmity and approbation for insisting on such a procedure? What kind of egomaniac would press for this over the vehement objections of the mother, knowing full well that circumcision of a 4-year-old requires general anesthetic, a long, painful period of healing, and the risk of medical complications?

Gillen also found Hironimus in contempt of court for allowing the use of the boy’s likeness on the Internet by anti-circumcision activists (who like to call themselves “intactivists”), and said that Hironimus is responsible for Nebus’ attorney fees. Gillen reserved ruling on how much those fees are. Gillen also ordered Hironimus to appear in court and to bring the child with her or face contempt-of-court charges. When Hironimus and her child remained in hiding, Gillen ordered a warrant for her arrest.

In April, Hironimus filed a lawsuit in federal court through her lawyer Thomas Hunker, claiming circumcising her son would violate the boy’s constitutional rights. Judge Gillen and Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw were named in the suit.

kenneth marraOn Monday May 18, an emergency hearing was held in the courtroom of US District Judge Kenneth Marra, who expressed skepticism that the long-running court battle the circumcision amounted to a constitutional issue worthy of being argued in federal court after being exhaustively litigated in state courts and in which a state judge had already ruled.

“Aren’t you really asking me to revisit and second-guess?” Marra asked near the start of the 80-minute hearing. Marra withheld from ruling on the case but did order Nebus to not have the child undergo circumcision without ten days’ notice to the court.

On May 20, Thomas Hunker, the attorney for Hironimus (who lost similar legal challenges in two state courts), notified Judge Marra that Hironimus voluntarily withdrew the month-old case, and would be barred from filing it again in federal court. Hunker said they quit the federal lawsuit because it appeared hopeless, in light of Monday’s hearing. “Unfortunately, Judge Marra was not only not sympathetic, he seemed quite hostile toward our position,” said Hunker.

heaher-crying1-665x385Hironimus wasn’t located until May 14 at the Broward County shelter where she was staying with her son. Brought before Judge Jeffrey Gillen on Friday, May 22 (after 9 days in jail), Hironimus again declined to sign a consent form for the surgery, so she was told she would remain jailed indefinitely. After the hearing recessed and she reconsidered, she reluctantly agreed to sign, sobbing as she put pen to paper.

Hironimus posted bond and was released at 10:18 pm Saturday, May 23, jail records show.

The father’s attorney said the surgery had not yet been scheduled, but Gillen had given him sole authority, temporarily, for the boy’s medical decisions, and granted a motion to allow him to travel out-of-state to have the procedure completed. Nebus had testified in Gillen’s court that three Florida doctors who had agreed to perform the surgery had withdrawn because of the controversy.

Though the signature solved a contempt charge against her, Hironimus still faces a criminal charge of interference with child custody, which is a felony in Florida carrying a 5-year sentence. Lawyers for both the mother and father have declined to comment, citing an ongoing gag order in the case.

circumcision activistsOnce a routine operation urged by American pediatricians and obstetricians for newborns, circumcision has become an elective option that parents now make for their sons on an individual basis. For more than a century, American baby boys were routinely circumcised immediately after birth. The justifications have changed over time: from prevention of masturbation, to hygiene considerations, and (most recently) to the prevention of disease.
As the validity of each is disproved, a new rationalization is invented. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now just about the only organization of its type in the developed world that continues to recommend the practice, probably because it is an additional source of revenue that is still reimbursed by most insurance companies in all but 16 states. That, and the fact that there is a lucrative market for babies’ foreskins.
Nonetheless, recent polls have found that only 35.5%-55% of newborn boys are now circumcised and it is expected that within a generation or two, a clear majority will be left intact. One of these polls found one in ten circumcised men in the US regret having had the procedure conducted.

At least on face value, the son’s bodily integrity would appear to be supported by the terms of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, which promises to enable him to develop “in conditions of freedom and dignity.” Both mother and child would also appear to have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on their side, which ensures their life, liberty and security of person, as well as their freedom from cruel or degrading treatment. But that apparently means nothing in Florida.

3000The courtroom photos record Hironimus at the time of the signature, bound in handcuffs, sobbing uncontrollably, throwing her head back with hands clenched in a prayer for support or forgiveness. When she took the pen from her lawyer, it was after serving nine days in jail with the clear threat from the presiding judge that she would be jailed indefinitely until she gave her signature.
But “consent” cannot be compelled, unless one believes that the Spanish Inquisition had it right.
Georganne Chapin, executive director of “Intact America,” which advocates against circumcision, said the images of a distraught Heather Hironimus signing the form to allow the surgery show how she was bullied into it and that her consent was not freely given.
Intact America is in the process of notifying doctors nationwide of the circumstances of the mother’s “consent.” If you want to see a recent interview of Ms. Chapin, click here.
“The foreskin is not a birth defect; it’s a normal body part, and it plays protective and pleasure-enhancing roles. Most of the world’s men are intact, and suffer no ill effects. In fact, despite fear-mongering by a medical establishment that peddles this infant surgery to two million American parents a year, European nations, with circumcision rates near zero, have the same or lower rates of urinary tract infections and sexually-transmitted diseases (including HIV) as the United States, where most men have been circumcised,” said Chapin.

“If Heather’s child were a girl, she would be protected by federal and state law from anybody tampering with her genitals,” said Chapin. “We are asking for the same justice for American boys.”

“If anyone finds out the circumstances under which she signed, a doctor would be insane to carry out that surgery,” she said.




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9 Responses to “state-mandated bris”

  1. 1 Frank Manning
    May 31, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    Sorry Dan, but the title of this post smacks of anti-Semitism. “Bris”, or more properly, brit milah, is a Jewish religioius ceremony. Islam (where the ceremony is called khitān), some non-Abrahamic religions, and many tribes in Africa and the Pacific islands also practice ritual circumcision. What happened in this case was a purely secular medical circumcision, not a Jewish religious ceremony. Whatever your opinion of circumcision or the particular circumstances of this troubling case, there is no excuse to attack Judaism or Jews, whether explicitly or implied.

    I have noticed in past posts that you have cited Holocaust deniers in minimizing the crimes of the Nazis or criticizng the leaders of the Allies in World War II. I find that practice disconcerting, and can’t help wondering why you would use the name of the Jewish religious ceremony in the title of this post that is obviously critical of the secular medical practice.

    • May 31, 2015 at 9:05 pm

      There is nothing anti-Semitic in this article, either real or implied. According to the website Jews Against Circumcision, the practice is described as a “barbaric, primitive, torturous, and mutilating practice” and “has no place in modern Judaism.”

      According to Tablet: A New Read on Jewish Life: “Perhaps the inconclusive medical evidence about circumcision is why US circumcision rates have been dropping for 30 years. Since 1979, the percentage of circumcised American male infants has dipped to 58.3% from 64.5%. (Changing demographics and the fact that many state governments have eliminated Medicaid coverage for the practice may also be a factor.) There’s no way to learn how many Jewish families are opting out, but Rebecca Wald, who runs Beyond the Bris, says that the number of hits and inquiries the site has gotten has risen incrementally since its founding in 2010. (The Israeli newspaper Haaretz estimates that 1% to 2% of Jewish babies born in Israel in the last decade have not been circumcised—there is an intactivist movement in Israel, too. A 2006 survey conducted by the Israeli parenting site Mamy found that the number was higher: 4.8% of Israeli boys weren’t circumcised, for reasons including parents’ objection to disfiguring the body—the reason cited by actress Alicia Silverstone—and not wanting to cause the baby pain.)”

      Being in agreement with these sentiments does not constitute an “attack” on Judiasm or Jews.

      I am sorry that you are bothered by my reference to British historian David Irving in my post about Winston Churchill. Irving has been unfairly labelled a “Holocaust denier” because his findings do not support the unsubstantiated claims of the most ardent promoters of the Holocaust story, but this makes his findings no less factual. Irving does not claim that the atrocities of anti-Semitism in Germany never happened, only that the prevailing Holocaust story must not be bought whole-cloth by discerning thinkers.

      You, as an historian and discerning thinker, should be among the first to appreciate this.

      • 3 Frank Manning
        May 31, 2015 at 10:47 pm

        Why, then, did you title this post “state-mandated bris”? The Florida court did not order a Jewish ritual circumcision performed by a mohel. Rather, it ordered a secular medical procedure performed by a doctor in a hospital. Fact is, Islam is currently the largest single religious group in which ritual circumcision is widespread. Why did you not call it “state-mandated khitan” or “state-mandated genital mutilation.” I am curious as to why you decided to use the Hebrew word in an article condemning a court’s decision to force a mother to accede to a secular medical circumcision of her son. By the way, I am with you in condemning that judge’s coercion of this woman..

        In re David Irving, he was thoroughly discredited when he unsuccessfully sued historian Deborah Lipstadt in Britain in1998 for describing him as a Holocaust denier. The following are excerpts from English High Court Judge Charles Gray’s ruling in the David Irving libel suit:

        “It is my conclusion that no objective, fair-minded historian would have serious cause to doubt that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz and that they were operated on a substantial scale to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews.

        “It appears to me to be incontrovertible that Irving qualifies as a Holocaust denier. Not only has he denied the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz and asserted that no Jew was gassed there, he has done so on frequent occasions and sometimes in the most offensive terms. By way of examples, I cite his story of the Jew climbing into a mobile telephone box-cum-gas chamber; his claim that more people died in the back of Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz; his dismissal of the eyewitnesses en masse as liars or suffering from a mental problem … I reject as being untrue the claim made by Irving in his evidence that in his denial of the existence of any gas chambers at Auschwitz, he was referring solely to the gas chamber constructed by the Poles after the war for the benefit of visitors to the site or, as Irving put it, as a ‘tourist attraction.’

        “Having grossly underestimated the number who lost their lives in the camps, Irving is prone to claim that a greater number than that were killed in Allied bombing raids on Dresden and elsewhere. He has, moreover, repeatedly claimed that the British Psychological War Executive ingeniously discovered the lies that the Nazis were killing Jews in gas chambers in order to use it as propaganda.

        “Irving is anti-Semitic. His words are directed against Jews, either individually or collectively, in the sense that they are by turn hostile, critical, offensive and derisory in their references to Semitic people, their characteristics and appearances … Irving has made claims that the Jews deserve to be disliked; that they brought the Holocaust on themselves. He speaks regularly at political or quasi-political meetings in Germany, the United States, Canada and the New World. The content of his speeches and interviews often displays a distinctly pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish bias. He makes surprising and often unfounded assertions about the Nazi regime which tend to exonerate the Nazis for the appalling atrocities which they inflicted on the Jews. He is content to mix with neo-facists and appears to share many of their racist and anti-Semitic prejudices.

        “The charges which I have found to be substantially true include the charges that Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-Semitic and racist and that he associates with right-wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.” Source: The Guardian, 11 April 2000

        Yes, Dan, “as an historian and discerning thinker,” I take the strongest possible exception to Holocausr denial and those who would try to justify it.

      • May 31, 2015 at 11:52 pm

        Sorry to disappoint you, Frank, but my sole reason for using the word “bris” rather than “circumcision” is that it is one syllable not four. A professor once taught that reducing syllables increases impact and comprehension. It doesn’t make me an anti-Semite.

        The transcript which you quote is from the libel trial in which David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Press for characterizing him as a Holocaust denier… and yes, Gray’s verdict was predictable given the spending and display of power of Irving’s opponents during the trial—i.e., Lipstadt was funded by Canadian liquor baron Edgar Bronfman Sr. and by Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who set up a foundation to record memories of the Shoah—and were “said by informed sources to be among a small group of prominent American Jews who helped fund Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s defense” (Jewish Chronicle, April 14, 2000), as well as the intervention of a sovereign state on Lipstadt’s behalf, when the Israeli Attorney General rushed Lipstadt’s legal team the jailhouse memoirs of Adolf Eichmann. All the stops were pulled out to defeat Irving.

        Lipstadt herself was quoted: “I am uncomfortable with imprisoning people for speech. Let him go and let him fade from everyone’s radar screens… Generally, I don’t think Holocaust denial should be a crime. I am a free speech person, I am against censorship.”

        You seem to be intent to spin my choice of language for a headline into something that it is not. This is wholly your invention, and not a reflection of my true beliefs or feelings.


        I slept on this last night, asking myself if I was insensitive or disrespectful in titling this post, and wondering at your outsized reaction including conflation with irrelevant accusations of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism.

        I have a non-Jewish friend who sat in “Shiva” after the death of her son and observes his “Jahrzeit” whenever it comes up—and no one is accusing her of anti-Semitism. In our multicultural society, we freely borrow all sorts of words that have their origins in one ethnic group or another.

        The whole thing was puzzling to me until I returned to the basic facts.

        Circumcision is a medically unnecessary procedure. Its only legitimate purpose is religious or tribal. But using spurious justifications which keep changing as they are disproved, it is a religious practice which is imposed on those who do not share, or would not share, its original purpose or values.

        In so titling my post, I had inadvertently put my finger on the precise thing which so infuriated you: it is indeed a bris (or at least provides protective camouflage for those who have undergone the procedure as an expression of a covenant with the God of Abraham).

        Thank you for drawing attention to this fact.

  2. 5 Andy Rea
    June 1, 2015 at 9:29 am

    Hey Dan,
    I was not circumcised until I was thirty years old. For years I had problems with infection, after I had the procedure done I was much happier with my junk!
    Best thing I ever decided to do. 😉

  3. 7 Andy Rea
    June 1, 2015 at 9:55 am

    I know of many cases and reasons why it is beneficial to keep the skin. So you are correct on the larger point!
    Peace Andy

  4. 8 matt
    June 1, 2015 at 10:53 am

    I didn’t see this as a debate of either religious or medical practices, but rather just the court’s enforcement of a legal agreement between two parties; “They signed an agreement on shared parenting, which included a clause stating that the father would schedule and pay for any circumcision procedure.”

    Are the parents using this argument and the child to beat each other over the head? Yeah, that appears obvious!

  5. 9 Hat Bailey
    June 6, 2015 at 10:04 pm

    I personally have come to view this practice as a barbaric relic. I was circumcised shortly after birth, but it was pretty well botched, leaving about half the foreskin. In those days it was done without anaesthetic and I’m sure the trauma along with a young inexperienced frightened fifteen year old mother whose husband was overseas fighting in WWII did not make for a very good start to my earthly life as a secure person with good self esteem. I had trouble with occasional bed wetting up through Jr. High and my father thought removing my remaining foreskin might help, and I underwent another operation under ether to have the rest removed. Today I view this as both mutilation of the body from what nature intended, as well as a violation of my own personal sovereignty. I can’t say I blame my parents for their ignorance, I know they were well meaning and misinformed, but I will be glad when this sort of thing is no longer practised, and children are seen as people with certain unalienable rights rather than as property. I also see the actions of the judge in this case as highly reprehensible. “Consent” at the point of a gun is not the same thing as freely given consent, but is simply the imposition of his will over hers. Such “consent” is pointless, why pretend you respect or need their permission and why not just go ahead and order the kid be mutilated? They sure didn’t care about his consent. It reminds me of the parent who says, “Tell me you love me or else!” You can compel someone to say the words, but you can’t force the genuine feeling.

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