Where does Religious Freedom end and ritual abuse begin? A case in Detroit might soon decide where federal law draws the line.

According to the Detroit Free Press, defense lawyers plan to argue that religious liberty protects the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in a case that has shaken the city's massive Muslim community. Federal law has prohibited FGM in America for more than 20 years, and the case presents the first challenge to the ban.

In mid-April, local law enforcement arrested Dr. Fakhruddin Attar and his wife, Farida Attar, after they allowed Dr. Jumana Nagarwalaa to perform FGM surgery on two 7-year-old girls in their clinic in Livonia, a Detroit suburb.

The procedure, they insist, involved almost no cutting and was part of traditional Indian Muslim religious practice, and therefore, protected by the First Amendment.

FGM: A Global Practice

FGM, also known as female genital cutting (FGC) or female circumcision, is a global practice, though most common in Muslim communities in Central and Northern Africa. The procedure alters or altogether removes the female external genitalia, but offers no medical benefit. Its origins are ancient, predating both Islam and Christianity. Typically, it is performed on young girls, some less than a year old, with the hope of limiting their sexual activity to procreation.

According to the World Health Organization, (more than 200 women alive today have experienced FGM in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

While the global occurrence of FGM has declined in recent decades, Newsweek reported in 2015 that the rate more than doubled in the U.S. over the previous 10 years.

Despite it's strong ties to Islam, FGM is not exclusively a Muslim practice.

In fact, views on the practice differ greatly across Muslim schools of thought. Given its prevalence in religiously diverse African nations and its absence from many Muslim countries, it's probably more accurate to call FGM a cultural phenomenon than a religious one.

Human rights organizations are nearly unanimous in their condemnation of the practice.

The World Health Organization, United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and UNICEF are among the prominent agencies that oppose all forms of FGM. According to critics, it violates basic human rights, offers no health benefits, and often results in psychological and physical complications.

The Case in Detroit

The three defendants in the pending case in Detroit are members of Dawoodi Bohra, a small Shiite Muslim sect. While the Detroit-area mosque to which the defendants belong condemns breaking local laws, Dawoodi Bohra generally condones FGM. The defendants, however, have argued that the procedures involved only "minor scraping" of the girl's genitalia.

A jury will ultimately decide whether the procedures qualified as mutilation as defined by federal law, and if so, whether it is protected under constitutional freedom of religion.

Sara Woodward, the Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case, has argued that the procedures clearly violated federal law, which prohibits any procedure that alters female genitalia. In addition, the two young victims told authorities the procedures were extremely painful, one stating she had trouble walking afterward.

Mary Chartier, one of the defense attorneys, has furthered the argument that Dawoodi Bohra doctors in the U.S. only "nick" the girls on which they operate, and it's unfair to call it mutilation. More importantly, she maintains, such procedures are protected as religious freedoms."It would be exempt because it would violate their First Amendment rights," Chartier told the Detroit Free Press.

"They believe that if they do not engage in this then they are not actively practicing their religion."

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