On this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding through Lafayette Square and past the plaza in front of the north portico of the White House (MAP), I noticed an unusual looking protest. From a distance it caught my eye because the men protesting were dressed in all-white outfits with what appeared to be red stains on their crotches. I also noticed that the demonstration was not only getting a lot of attention, but was also prompting double-takes or shudders from some of the tourists and other passersby. So naturally I rode over to take a closer look and try to find out more.
It turned out that the protest was by a group called Bloodstained Men and Their Friends, which is traveling around the country to protest against infant male circumcision in the United States. And they have more than 60 anti-circumcision protests scheduled throughout this year. That includes this protest at the White House.
Two of the main Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Islam, require that males be circumcised, while Christians and nonbelievers are mixed on the topic. Others believe that circumcision has health advantages for men completely separate from religious belief. Both the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have found that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, and that the benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.
However, the organizers of the protest consider the procedure of infant male circumcision to be a violation of human rights, and want this country to follow the advice of the European medical community, which has condemned American doctors for infant circumcision. They also contend that in the United States, the legality of the practice is a violation of the 14th Amendment.
Despite being practiced in many African and Middle Eastern countries as a cultural custom, the Federal government passed a law in 1996 against Female Genital Mutilation. In fact, just this week the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which considers it an international human rights issue, announced on its web site that it is encouraging people to come forward and report cases so that it can proactively investigate this illegal practice. Bloodstained Men contend inasmuch as the 14th Amendment says that the law has to be applied equally, infant boys should be entitled to the same respect of their bodies that girls are.
However, the Bloodstained Men philosophy is not strictly anti-circumcision. Although they do not advocate the process for anyone, the group believes the decision on whether to be circumcised should be left to the individual once he is an adult. They also believe that protesting isn’t their main mission. Rather, protesting is a means by which they seek to start a dialogue about the subject in hopes of educating people. By this measure, I think their protest was a success.