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Freedom of religion is being used as a defense in a female genital mutilation case


For the first time in 21 years a law making it illegal to cut young girls' genitalia will be challenged, claiming freedom of religion as a defense, the Detroit Free Press reports. 

Three people have been charged with cutting the genitals of two 7-year-old girls from Minnesota in February. The defendants, Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, his wife Farida Attar and Dr. Jumana Nagarwala are members of the Indian-Muslim sect Dawoodi Bohra, located in Farmington Hills, Michigan, outside of Detroit. 

One of the defense lawyers for the case, Mary Chartier, told the Detroit Free Press that besides freedom of religion, the defense will also argue that technically the doctors didn't cut any genitalia, it was just a "scraping." 

"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. 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. 

But according to court records, the young girls said the procedures were very painful and were told to keep it a secret. 

"She knew that this was illegal but did it anyway. As a medical doctor, she is aware that female genital mutilation has no medical purpose," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward told the Detroit Free Press about the doctor who performed the procedure. 

FGM became illegal in 1997 under the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, according to Catholic News Agency

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