CIRCUMCISON: A Short Humanist History of a Cause


James W. Prescott, Ph.D.

Institute of Humanistic Science

It was at the 1986 Annual Convention of the American Humanist Association (AHA), held in Sacramento, CA that I was first introduced to the circumcision issue by Marilyn F. Milos , R.N., Founder and Director, NOCIRC, who had a booth and was showing video clips of a circumcision. I was standing next to her booth in conversation with a humanist colleague when a piercing scream interrupted our conversation. I turned to her and asked her, “What was that?” Marilyn responded, “A baby being circumcised.” This infant scream was unlike anything I have heard before—a scream of torture—and set me on a life path to end the genital mutilation of children worldwide. I immediately formulated a Resolution to end the genital mutilation of children worldwide and submitted it to the next Board Meeting of the AHA for approval. Thus began a long journey of submitted Resolutions and rejections by the AHA and other humanist organizations to end the genital mutilation of children worldwide.

The First International Symposium On Circumcision was held on March 1-3, 1989, Anaheim, CA, which was organized by Marilyn Fayre Milos, R.N. Founder and Director, NOCIRC. At this Conference, a Resolution "The Universal Declaration on Circumcision, Incision and Excision" was unanimously passed by the General Assembly.

At the Second International Conference on Circumcision held in San Francisco (1991), Ashley Montagu presented his address Mutilated Humanity.

The American Humanist Association bestowed upon Ashley Montagu its 1995 Humanist of the Year Award. As part of its award ceremonies, the AHA/The Humanist negotiated with Marilyn F. Milos, R.N. and Dr. James W. Prescott the publication of Mutilated Humanity in its July/August 1995 edition of The Humanist in exchange for the publication of The Ashley Montagu Resolution to End the Genital Mutilation of Children Worldwide: A Petition to the World Court, The Hague, which was passed unanimously at the Fourth International Symposium on Circumcision: Sexual Mutilations: A Human Tragedy held in Lausanne, Switzerland, 1996, which the General Assembly unanimously endorsed.

Regrettably, the AHA/The Humanist refused to live up to its contractual agreement and refused to publish The Montagu Resolution. Fred Edwords, Editor, The Humanist and Executive Director, AHA gave no satisfactory response to his refusal to publish The Montagu Resolution. This action was consistent with a long tradition of the refusal by the AHA Board of Directors to endorse The Montagu Resolution, which this writer initiated many times beginning in 1986 and which continues to this day.

During this time period, I submitted The Montagu Resolution to the American Ethical Union for their endorsement. They refused to act upon The Montagu Resolution despite the historical significance of Rabbi Felix Adler's opposition to circumcision, the Founder of Ethical Culture. The American Ethical Union remains to this day unsupportive of The Montagu Resolution.

Professors Paul Kurtz and Rob Tielman were co-Presidents of the IHEU from 1986-1993 (PK) and 1986-1996 (RT). During their tenure I repeatedly requested that they submit The Montagu Resolution to the IHEU for endorsement. They repeatedly blocked the submission of The Montagu Resolution to the IHEU General Assembly. Similarly, appeals to the Council For Democratic Secular Humanism (CODESH) were rejected.

In the Fall 2005, I began a series of email correspondence with Roy Brown, President, IHEU and requested that he submit The Montagu Resolution to the IHEU General Assembly for their consideration and action. After much review he submitted the following Resolution that calls upon all IHEU member organizations to take action opposing non-medical circumcision. The IHEU action follows.

We are all grateful to President Roy Brown and the IHEU for the action taken that opposes all non-medical circumcisions. Although, we believe that the ethical and human rights issues needs greater emphasis this is an important and significant step in protecting and preserving the human rights and integrity of the infant/child body. All member organizations of IHEU are urged to endorse the IHEU Resolution on Circumcision and endorse The Montagu Resolution.


AGENDA Item GA 24 (ii)


IHEU General Assembly 2006, New York City

           Thursday 20th April - 10am to 5.30 pm

            Friday 21st April - 10am to 1pm

Ceremonial Hall,

Fourth Floor, New York Society for Ethical Culture,

Two West Sixty-Fourth Street,

New York City, USA


Resolution on Male Circumcision

Amended Resolution as Adopted




That circumcision of boys for non-medical reasons is typically carried out on boys too young to give informed consent;  

That it can result in infection, loss of sensitivity, and has in some cases led to the death of those circumcised;

Urges IHEU member organizations to oppose the practice of male circumcision for non-medical reasons.


Adopted by 17 votes to 4

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