The Seeker: Circumcision ban would be unconscionable

A San Francisco ballot initiative later this year proposes to criminalize the performance of circumcisions on male minors, with fines up to $1,000 and jail terms of up to one year. Even Russell Crowe has weighed in on the proposal via Twitter: “I love my Jewish friends, I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats but stop cutting yr babies.” Such a proposal smacks of religious ignorance at best, if not outright anti-religious animus.

For Jews, circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant as described in Genesis 17. It is a fundamental practice of the faith.

Muslims also circumcise their male children, the rite being roughly analogous (with some differences) to the significance of the practice among Jews. This is not a minor or optional thing; the practice is religiously mandated for those faith traditions.

Mormons are not bound by the same covenant requirements applicable to Jews. Many Mormon men are circumcised, but this is more a reflection of 20th century American culture and is not a religious requirement. I know from reading Mormon blogs that opinions on the advisability of circumcising infant sons run the gamut, which is simply a reflection of broader cultural differences of opinion on this question.

In terms of health there is a case to be made for circumcision, as well as a case to be made against it. Neither case is overwhelming, such that government health agencies do not formally recommend either circumcision or non-circumcision. The decision historically has been left up to the parents.

That is where I believe the decision point should remain. “Intactivists” are free to press their point of view by means of education and advocacy. But to take this decision away from parents by force of law, especially without a religious exemption, is unconscionable in my view. The ballot initiative should be rejected.

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