A coalition of New York City ultra-Orthodox organizations and leaders have filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new requirement by the city’s Board of Health that an informed consent form be signed before performing metzitzah b’peh, direct oral-genital suction, after circumcision.
“Not only is the Department of Health wrong about metzitzah b’peh, it is trying to enforce its erroneous opinions on the people of New York City,” said Hank Sheinkopf, spokesperson for Agudath Israel of America, one the groups filing the suit. “By essentially starting a public intimidation campaign that forces private citizens to spread the government’s beliefs, they are shaking the core of our democracy. We believe the courts will stop this overzealous government overreach and keep them out of our speech and religion.”
Besides Agudath Israel, the other plaintiffs to the suit are the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States & Canada and Rabbi Samuel Blum, Rabbi Aharon Leiman and Rabbi Shloime Eichenstein. The suit was filed on Thursday in Manhattan federal court.
The suit claims: “the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express—especially when the speaker is operating in an area of heightened First Amendment protection, such as a religious ritual.”
The lawsuit contains affidavits from infectious diseases experts and statistics that supposedly debunk the board’s claims that children are at a higher risk of herpes simplex virus infection as a result of metzitzah b’peh.
City health officials said the forms were necessary to confront a health issue that has resulted in two deaths and several serious illnesses in recent years.
“The City’s highest obligation is to protect its children. Therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice,” Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley said in a statement. “The Health Department’s written consent requirement is lawful, appropriate and necessary.”