Some may just easily chuckle and say that it could only happen in San Francisco. Yet there were efforts to ban circumcision in Santa Monica and a group entitled " The Association for Genital Integrity" recently proposed a circumcision ban in Canada ( it failed). There have also been anti-circumcision groups in Massachusetts. Be that as it may, San Francisco voters this fall will be faced with voting on a referendum petition which declares that it is unlawful to circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles or penis of another person who has not attained 18 years of age. The penalty fine proposed is $1,000 or a maximum of one year in prison.
While the petition does allow an exemption to the law where there is a certified physical health issue which might medically call for circumcision, the specific maliciousness of the petition lies in its absolutely refusing any religious exemption. It stipulates that " No account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that person or any other person that the operation is requireed as a matter of custom or ritual." Effectively, Jews and Muslims who regularly perform child circumcision on their male babies are being dis-allowed their intrinsic religious practice. Circumcision, according to the proposed law, would only be permitted--except for medical reasons--at the request of a male 18 years or older.
Opponents of the proposal claim that it is a clear violation of religious liberty and/or parental rights. Proponents only claim that it can not be performed on children. They see it as a kind of genital mutilation( and, in places, in somewhat exaggerated rhetoric, compare it to female genital mutilation). Proponents point out that it is now against the law to tattoo an under-age child or to inject him with botox and that circumcision inflicts needless pain on un-willing or coerced children. They speak of it as mutilation without consent. Proponents argue that one could opt for circumcision, for religious reasons, once they reached age 18 ( but since adult circumcision is more consciously painful, one can legitimately fear that, perhaps, not many will so opt in).
I would tend to think that, even in politically--sometimes volatile--San Francisco, voters will reject the petition. Perhaps--as one wag facetiously put it-- it is all just making a mountain out of a mohel. But surprisingly, the petition received twice the required signatures to get on the ballot. Most also think that, even should the law pass, the courts would rule it unconstitutional as a violation of religious liberty.
To be sure, childhood circumcision ( as the American Academy of Pediatricions has argued) can pose real risks. Some also speak of possible benefits of the surgery ( as a protection against HIV). On balance, at least as a question of medical science, neither its potential risks nor its benefits seem--to me, at least--particularly compelling as arguments.
Thankfully, non-Jewish voices have been raised against the proposal. San Francisco Catholic Archbishop George Niederauer has forcefully opposed the proposed law. Recently also the National Association of Evangelicals has also come out strongly against the proposed law.
But the metaphor of making a moutain out of a mohel took on a new and more threatening tone with the appearance of a comic strip, Foreskin Man, in which a chiseled Aryan super-hero rescues babies from the monster mohels ( pictured in a kind of ominous stereotype of Jews). Moreover, the circumcision wars are not likely to remain restricted to San Francisco. The actor Russell Crowe, in a twitter, proclaimed: " Circumcision is barbaric and stupid. Who are you to correct nature? Is it real that God requires a donation of foreskin? Babies are perfect." So, an issue which could and would remain legitimately debatable if it simply tried to outlaw the routine circumcision of non-Jewish or non-Muslim baby boys has now taken on overtones of anti-Semitism. Clearly, Catholic voices need to be raised to protest this action.
There are, then, three issues involved. First, the violation of the religious liberty of Jews and Muslims. Most of the blogosphere which treats the issue focuses almost uniquely on Jews. While their religious liberty is definiitely precious that of Muslims is not less so and protests against the violation of religious liberty should routinely mention both Jews and Muslims ( I supect a majority of Americans do not know that Muslims also circumcise boy babies!). The second issue is the way pieces of the debate ( especially now through that comic strip, Foreskin Man) have verged clearly toward anti-Semitism by singling out the so-called " monster mohel". This needs also a very specific denunciation by all those who both treasure religious liberty and fight vicious religious stereotypes. The third issue has to do with parental rights. This last may or may not stand up in court ( since, as noted, no parent has a right under present law to give their baby a nose job or a tattoo).
In some form, the circumcision wars will, I surmise, continue. If such attempts to limit male circumcision allowed clear religious exemptions for Jews and Muslims, I might even contemplate supporting an anti-circumcision ordinance for non-Jews and Muslims. At present around 60% of American male babies are so circumcised. But we have reached a point in the debate where it is no longer just something to shrug off or merely debate. Religious freedom and the obvious denigration of one religious group ( the Jewish) calls for vital protests from other religious groups. Catholics should be conspicuous in this protest.