(Detroit Free Press) On paper, the law seems clear: Cutting any part of a young girl’s genitalia is illegal — and no custom or ritual can be used to justify it.
The law has been on the books for 21 years, unchallenged.
But in a federal courtroom in Detroit, a landmark case involving the centuries-old taboo ritual is about to put that law to the test for the first time.
And perhaps more historic, a question will be raised in the American legal system that has never been raised before: Does the U.S. Constitution allow for genital cutting, even if it’s just a minor nick or scraping, in the name of religion?
Defense lawyers plan to argue that religious freedom is at the core of the case in which two physicians and one of their wives are charged with subjecting young girls to genital cutting. All three are members of the Dawoodi Bohra, a small Indian-Muslim sect that has a mosque in Farmington Hills.
The defense maintains that the doctors weren’t engaged in any actual cutting — just a scraping of the genitalia — and that the three defendants are being persecuted for practicing their religion by a culture and society that doesn’t understand their beliefs and is misinterpreting what they did.
First Amendment scholars across the country — liberal and conservative alike — are closely following the case, noting that the fate of the accused will largely rest with scientific evidence.
The key question for jurors to answer will be: Were children harmed physically? If they were, experts say, the religious freedom defense doesn’t stand a chance.
But if the defense can show that it was just a nick and caused no harm, some experts believe, the defendants could be acquitted on religious grounds…