There have been laws about circumcision dating back to ancient times. In a number of modern states, circumcision of males is presumed to be legal, but under certain circumstances, more general laws, such as laws about assault or child custody, may sometimes be interpreted as applying to situations involving male circumcision. Some states have passed laws restricting the circumstances under which male circumcision may be performed. Many countries have placed restrictions on female circumcision or banned it entirely.
There are ancient religious laws about circumcision. The Hebrew Bible commands Jews to circumcise their male children on the eighth day of life and also to circumcise their male slaves (). See Brit milah (the Hebrew name for ritual circumcision).
Laws banning circumcision are also ancient. The ancient Greeks prized the foreskin and disapproved of the Jewish custom of circumcision. King Antiochus IV, of Syria, the occupying power of Judea in 170 BC, outlawed circumcision on penalty of death. This led to the Maccabean Revolt.
According to the Historia Augusta, the Roman emperor Hadrian issued a decree banning circumcision in the empire, triggering the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt of 132 AD. The Roman historian Cassius Dio, however, made no mention of such a law, and blamed the Jewish uprising instead on Hadrian's decision to rebuild Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, a city dedicated to Jupiter.
Antoninus Pius permitted Jews to circumcise their own sons. However it forbade the circumcision of non-Jews, contrary to It also made it illegal for a man to convert to Judaism. Antoninus Pius exempted the Egyptian priesthood from the otherwise universal ban on circumcision.
In 2001 the General Medical Council had found a doctor who had botched circumcision operations guilty of abusing his professional position and that he had acted "inappropriately and irresponsibly", and struck him off the register. A doctor who had referred patients to him, and who had pressured a mother into agreeing to the surgery, was also condemned. He was put on an 18 month period of review and retraining, and was allowed to resume unrestricted practice as a doctor in March 2003, after a committee found that he had complied with conditions it placed on him. According to the Northern Echo, he "told the committee he has now changed his approach to circumcision referrals, accepting that most cases can be treated without the need for surgery.". In 2003, a man who did not have medical qualifications was charged with unlawful wounding and deception after two boys needed blood transfusions and corrective surgery after being circumcised by him. He was cleared at the direction of the judge, who was told there were no formal rules concerning circumcision. It was also not regulated by the General Medical Council..
In 2005 a Muslim man had his son circumcised against the wishes of the child's mother who was the custodial parent. He was found not guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm by a majority verdict of the jury.
Fox and Thomson (2005) argue that consent cannot be given for non-therapeutic circumcision. They say there is "no compelling legal authority for the common view that circumcision is lawful."
In January and July 2001 disputes between parents in New Jersey and Kansas over circumcision were resolved when requests to have the boys circumcised were withdrawn. In June 2001 a Nevada court settled a dispute over circumcision between two parents but put a strict gag order on the terms of the settlement.
On 14 July 2004 a mother appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court to prevent the circumcision of her son after a county court and the Court of Appeals had denied her a writ of prohibition. However, in early August 2004, before the Supreme Court had given its ruling, the father, who had custody of the boy, had him circumcised.
In September 2004 the North Dakota Supreme Court rejected a mother's attempt to prosecute her doctor for circumcising her child with her permission.
In February 2004 in California, a man argued that he was Hebrew and circumcised his son out of religious duty. The judge ruled "it is only illegal if one mutilates a female -- there is nothing in the penal code about a male child.. However, in December 2004 in Vancouver, Washington, a man was convicted of second degree child assault after he attempted to circumcise his son with a hunting knife and was sentenced to serve three years in jail.
In October 2006 a judge in Chicago granted an injunction blocking the circumcision of a 9 year old boy. "The judge said the boy could decide for himself whether to be circumcised when he turns 18.
In November 2007, the Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments from a divorced Oregon couple over the circumcision of their son. The father wants his son, who is now 13, to be circumcised; the child's mother opposes the procedure. The parents dispute whether the boy is in favor of the procedure. A group opposed to circumcision filed briefs in support of the mother's position, while some Jewish groups filed a brief in support of the father. On 25 January 2008, the Court returned the case to the trial court with instructions to determine whether the child agrees or objects to the proposed circumcision. However, the father appealed to the US Supreme Court to allow him to have his son circumcised.
In 1997 a man won $A10,000 for nervous shock after he was forcibly circumcised in a drunken attack.
In 1999, a Perth man won $A360,000 in damages after a doctor admitted he botched a circumcision operation at birth which left the man with a badly deformed penis.
In 2002, Queensland police charged a Muslim father with grievous bodily harm for having his two sons, then aged nine and five, circumcised without the knowledge and against the wishes of the mother. The mother and father were in a family court dispute. The charges were dropped when the police prosecutor revealed that he did not have all family court paperwork in court and the magistrate refused to grant an adjournment.
In 2007, the Tasmanian President of the Australian Medical Association, Haydn Walters, stated that they would support a call to ban circumcision for non-medical, non-religious reasons.
The Children's Act 2007 makes the circumcision of male children under 16 unlawful except for religious or medical reasons. Eastern Cape Province passed a law (Application of Health Standards in Traditional Circumcision Act 2001) to regulate traditional circumcision, which causes the death or mutilation of many youths by traditional surgeons each year. Among other provisions, the minimum age for circumcision is age 18.
In January 2008 a teenager sued his father and traditional leaders for forcibly circumcising him, demanding an apology. In May 2008 the case was adjourned indefinitely because papers had not been served on Eastern Cape traditional leaders.
In 2001, Sweden allowed only persons certified by the National Board of Health to circumcise infants. It required a medical doctor or an anesthesia nurse to accompany the circumciser and for anaesthetic to be applied beforehand. After the first two months of life circumcisions could only be performed by a physician. Swedish Jews and Muslims objected to the law, and in 2001, the World Jewish Congress stated that it was “the first legal restriction on Jewish religious practice in Europe since the Nazi era.” However, in 2006, the U.S. State Department stated, in a report on Sweden, that most Jewish mohels had been certified under the law and 3000 Muslim and 40-50 Jewish boys were circumcised each year. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare reviewed the law in 2005 and recommended that it be maintained.
In September 2007, a Frankfurt am Main appeals court found that the circumcision of an 11 year old boy without his approval was an unlawful personal injury. Reportedly, the boy, whose parents are divorced, was visiting his Muslim father during a vacation when his father forced him to be ritually circumcised . According to a report by the German ddp press agency, the boy, who lives with his mother, plans to sue his father for 10,000 Euro.