Come this November, it now looks likely that an initiative to ban the circumcision of male children will be on the ballot in San Francisco.
If it passes, violators would be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in prison.
There would be no religious exemptions. That's a critical point, considering that circumcision is a religious ritual for Jews-and for Muslims. According to an ABC News report, Marc Stern, an attorney for the American Jewish Committee called the ballot initiative "the most direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States."
The moving force behind the proposal is a man named Lloyd Schofield. The San Francisco Chronicle describes him as a "58-year-old . . . who lives with his partner . . . and they have no children." In an interview, Schofield said he became interested in the issue after seeing Bay Area Intactivists (a group opposed to male circumcision) march in the Gay Pride Parade a few years ago. "The base of our argument is you're spending incredible amounts of money doing painful and damaging surgery to an unwilling patient," he told the newspaper. He is credited with acquiring the necessary 7,000-plus signatures required to put the proposal up for a vote.
A few days ago, one of Schofield's colleagues on the project created an online comic book as part of the campaign. According to a report in the New York Daily News, the comic includes a blond superhero called "Foreskin Man" and an evil-looking "Monster Mohel." (Mohels are specially trained to perform Jewish circumcisions.) Nancy Appel of the Anti-Defamation League said the comic, "with its grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes, reaches a new low and is disrespectful and deeply offensive."
Studies done in Africa have shown that circumcision may help prevent the spread of the AIDS virus in heterosexual men. But there is no research to indicate that it protects homosexual men from the virus. There are also studies that suggest that circumcision may reduce the incidence of other sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections. Circumcision in the United States is a common practice. It's estimated that approximately 80 percent of American men are circumcised.
But all of that is really beside the point. This fall, a major American city will consider criminalizing a centuries-old rite prescribed by Jewish law. Put plainly, the issue here is religion and the freedom to practice it.