Two doctors who have been arrested on charges they performed female genital mutilation surgeries on young girls plan to use "religious freedom" as their defense. They also argue that the procedures were not severe and did not harm the girls.
Lawyers for the doctors argue that the procedure was a "minor nick" and will not cause damage. Because of this, they say that it is protected under the First Amendment.
All three defendants are members of the Dawoodi Bohra sect, which is known for practicing female circumcision on girls for religious reasons. The defendants are accused of secretly subjecting girls to the procedure, and then trying to cover up the acts when they were discovered and encouraging others in their religious community not to cooperate with authorities — or to lie to them — if questioned about genital mutilation.
Chartier said while multiple constitutional arguments will be made — freedom of religion being just one of them — one of the most significant points the defense will make is "what the procedure actually is."
"We know there is female genital mutilation. No one is saying it doesn't exist. But what we're saying is this procedure does not qualify as FGM," Chartier said.
<>"And even if it did, it would be exempt because it would violate their First Amendment rights. They believe that if they do not engage in this then they are not actively practicing their religion."
Chartier said the 1996 law that is being used to prosecute this case is "unconstitutionally vague and overly broad." She believes parental rights are being violated, arguing parents have the right to raise their children as they deem fit.
But, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward, what actually happened to at least two girls went far beyond a "ritual nick." The girls described the procedure as "painful" and said that they were barely able to walk afterwards.
According to court documents, in interviews with authorities, the two Minnesota victims described the genital cutting procedures as painful.
One girl said that she got a shot, screamed, and "could barely walk after the procedure, and that she felt pain all the way down to her ankle." The other said she was "laid on an examining table with her knees near her chest and legs spread apart," that she was "pinched" in the genital area, that it "hurted a lot" and that there was "pain and burning."
While the First Amendment is an important thing, it does not grant the right to physically harm or mutilate children in the name of religion. There are no health benefits to FGM. It is not beneficial to the child. This is not religious freedom, it's barbaric.