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Ask boy, 12, if he wants to be circumcised, court says

  • Story Highlights
  • Case part of parental custody dispute
  • Father converted to Judaism after splitting with wife
  • Father wanted son to convert after getting custody
  • Russian Orthodox mother says son doesn't want procedure
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From Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau
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(CNN) -- A 12-year-old boy should get a say in whether he gets circumcised, the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled.

The court sent the parental custody dispute back to the trial court "to resolve the factual issue whether M agrees or objects to the circumcision."

"M" is the child at the center of a long-running custody dispute between James and Lia Boldt, who divorced in 1999. Soon after, the father began studying Judaism and later converted. He also started teaching his son about the faith. By then, James had parental custody and told his ex-wife the boy would convert as well, and that to do so, he would have to have the circumcision procedure.

The mother objected, saying the child had been raised in the Russian Orthodox faith while the couple was married. Because the two sides disagreed, and were living in neighboring states, the conflict dissolved into ongoing personal and constitutional dispute.

James Boldt said that as a Jew and the primary caregiver, he has a First Amendment right to practice his faith as he sees fit for his child.

Lia Boldt countered her son does not want to go through with the circumcision, and that it is an invasive, irreversible, and potentially dangerous medical procedure.

The state high court seemed especially reluctant to address the issue, saying normally such disputes "are considered private family matters." But the justices noted "these parties cannot or will not resolve this matter without resort to the courts."

So rather than offer a definitive ruling, the justices ordered both sides to go to the actual source of the conflict.

"In our view, at age 12, M's attitude regarding circumcision, though not conclusive of the custody issue presented here, is a fact necessary to the determination" of whether the mother can press her objections to the procedure, wrote Chief Justice Paul De Muniz for the six-member panel. "Forcing M at age 12 to undergo circumcision against his will could seriously affect the relationship between M and his father, and could have a pronounced effect on father's capability to properly care for M."

There was no initial reaction to the decision from the parents or their attorneys.

The case is James Boldt v. Lia Boldt (S054714). E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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