My colleague at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, Kristina Arriaga, had an important piece recently in the Wall Street Journal about female genital mutilation in the US. (Please note that neither this blog post nor the WSJ article necessarily reflects the views of the commission, which I chair.) FGM made the news earlier this year when doctors in Minnesota were charged for their roles in performing or facilitating this barbaric act. There is so much that is troubling in this story–and the article makes for tough reading–but Ms. Arriaga calls our attention in particular to the “religious freedom” defense being crafted by the doctors’ lawyers. The main point, to be sure, is that religious freedom most certainly does not include the right to inflict this serious harm upon women and most often young girls. But a critical secondary point is that the coopting of religious freedom for these nefarious purposes endangers the right writ large. Religious freedom is already in peril in so many places, and in the West it is increasingly slandered as a cover for bigotry and discrimination. Arguing that religious freedom includes awful practices like FGM gives credence to the detractors who say that religious freedom does more harm than good. It is simply wrong in principle to contend that religious freedom includes the right to practice FGM. But it is also dangerous in practice to defend FGM under the banner of religious freedom because doing so compromises all religious freedom claims by associating them with something that truly is harmful and, indeed, unjustifiable.
About the author
Daniel Mark is an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. For the 2017-18 academic year, he is a visiting fellow at the University of Notre Dame. The views he expresses here are his own and not those of any of the institutions with which he is affiliated.