By Associated Press
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A divorced couple have gone to court to determine whether their son is to be circumcised following his father's conversion to Judaism.
The former Medford man wants his 12-year-old son to undergo the minor surgical procedure, but the boy's mother opposes it.
So far, Oregon courts have squarely sided with the father, who has custody.
"The primary custodial parent is the one that makes the decisions about religion and education and about matters of child-rearing," Kathy Graham, associate dean for academic affairs at Willamette University College of Law.
Other family law experts agree, but say the courts should at least make sure the surgery is in the best interests of the child.
"You're talking about not just religious instruction or whether you're going to send the child to parochial school or public school," said Lawrence Gorin, a Portland attorney. "This is a matter of permanent change of bodily structure. And it's irreversible."
The Oregon Supreme Court has been briefed, but has not decided whether to take the case.
Mark Johnson, a Portland lawyer asked to comment, said the case should not be decided based only on the legal papers filed on behalf of the mother and father.
"Frankly, the child should have a lawyer," Johnson told The Oregonian newspaper, which is not identifying the family in order to protect the privacy of the boy.
The mother filed for divorce in 1998 after the couple married in the early 1990s.
The man started studying Judaism in 1999 and eventually converted. He now lives near Olympia, Wash. The child initially lived with his mother, but the father later gained custody.
In court papers, the father claims the boy gradually concluded that he also wanted to convert to Judaism and understood that it required circumcision.
The father also claims as the custodial parent he had a constitutional right to raise his son in his religion.
The father made an appointment for a circumcision in 2004. But the mother responded by going to court, saying her son told her that he was afraid to defy his father, but didn't want the procedure.
She asked for a hearing in Medford to seek custody of her son. But Jackson County Circuit Judge Rebecca Orf sided with the father.
"I am still of the opinion that the decision of whether or not a child has elective surgery, which this appears to be, is a call that should be made and is reserved to the custodial parent," Orf said in a hearing.
The mother appealed, but the Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed Orf's decision without an opinion, often an indication that the three-judge panel found no merit to the appeal.
More than a million U.S. infants are circumcised each year, but circumcising adults or teens remains relatively rare.
Last month, United Nations health agencies recommended that heterosexual men be circumcised because of compelling evidence it reduces their chances of contracting HIV - the virus that causes AIDS - by up to 60 percent.