Lawyers to cite religious freedom in genital mutilation case

A landmark First Amendment case is developing in Detroit, where two doctors and one of their wives will stand trial for mutilating the genitals of two little girls.

The defense will claim that the barbaric practice is protected by the First Amendment freedom of religion.  They will say that no actual mutilation took place – only "scraping" the genitals.

If that is the case, there is a chance they may be acquitted.

USA Today:

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.

The Detroit case involves the genital cuttings of two 7-year-old Minnesota girls whose mothers brought them to a Livonia clinic for the procedure in February.

Defense lawyers have argued that the defendants are good, hardworking people with deeply held religious convictions who were involved in only mild procedures that are part of their faith.

But the government says the harm was much more severe than the defense is claiming and that there are multiple other victims. According to court documents, the two Minnesota girls had scarring and abnormalities on their clitorises and labia minora.

"It is hard for me to imagine any court accepting the religious freedom defense given the harm that's being dealt in this case," said First Amendment expert Erwin Chemerinsky, one of the nation's leading constitutional law scholars who called the religious claim in the Detroit case a "losing argument."

"You don't have the right to impose harm on others in practicing your religion," said Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine who in January was named the country's most influential person in legal education by National Jurist magazine.

What complicates this case even more is the claim of female genital mutilation supporters that it is a "cultural" practice not related to religion.  Indeed, of the 200 million or so victims of FGM worldwide, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus have all been cut or mutilated in this fashion.

But the lawyers for the defendants in the Detroit case are making the religious freedom argument, ostensibly to keep their clients out of prison.

Even if it's only "scraping" or "nicking" the clitoris, the idea that anyone could get away with this monstrosity by hiding behind the religious freedom clause of the Constitution is appalling. 

It should be noted that the jury pool will include a lot of Muslims, and the defense may insist that mostly Muslim jurors are sat for the trial.  If that's the case, it will take only one juror on the side of the defense for a hung jury and a mistrial.

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