Oregon Court Hears Custody Dispute Involving Dad's Wish to Have Son, 12, Circumcised

The father of a 12-year-old boy told the Oregon Supreme Court that he should be allowed to arrange for his son to be circumcised, even if his ex-wife has concerns about the procedure.

James Boldt, who converted to Judaism in 2004 and has custody of the boy, argues that the circumcision is a decision best left to the custodial parent.

The mother, Lia Boldt, had appealed to the high court after a lower court judge in 2004 sided with the father in the case. The judge ordered him not to have the circumcision done until the appeals were exhausted.

Lia Boldt argues that that judge should have given her the chance to present evidence, in her efforts to regain custody of the boy, that the circumcision could physically and psychologically harm him.

The high court dismissed the physical and psychological concerns. Instead, justices focused on whether a noncustodial parent is entitled to a hearing to present evidence on their concerns about potential risks, such as health, posed to the child.

Clayton Patrick, the mother's attorney, argued the trial judge should have granted her a hearing on the health concerns.

"In this case there's been a lot of talk that what we're trying to do is say there can never be a circumcision," Patrick said. "We're not saying that at all. ... We presented enough evidence to at least have a hearing."

Chief Justice Paul De Muniz asked James Boldt, an attorney representing himself, whether he felt the trial judge had the authority to make the decision on circumcision without hearing more about the concerns of the boy's mother.

"The court is not a rubber stamp," Boldt said. "A court does not to have grant a hearing just for the asking."

Justice W. Michael Gillette asked Patrick what would happen if the noncustodial parent of a child objected to allowing participation in a risky sport, such as football, and then answered his own question.

"The answer to that is that's preposterous," Gillette said.

Gillette also suggested Lia Boldt was using circumcision as a means to exert control over her son after custody was granted to her ex-husband.

Rabbi Daniel Isaak at Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, who attended the Tuesday hearing, noted that general medical opinion on whether to circumcise tends to go back and forth, like fashion. But the practice has been an article of faith for Jews for thousands of years.

John Geishker, executive director of Seattle-based Doctors Opposing Circumcision, said he hoped the court would consider the boy's rights.

"The child deserves a hearing," Geishker said. "This is a serious procedure on a 12-year-old. Most men, I think, would agree."