San Francisco's proposed circumcision ban galvanizes religious opposition
Evidence has shown mixed risks and benefits of circumcision, a procedure that removes the foreskins of infant boys.
June 10th, 2011
02:33 PM ET

San Francisco's proposed circumcision ban galvanizes religious opposition

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - The nation’s largest evangelical Christian umbrella group has come out against San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban, evidence that the voter initiative is beginning to galvanize national religious opposition.

Thursday’s announcement from the National Association of Evangelicals was noteworthy because unlike Jews and Muslims, Christians are not religiously mandated to practice circumcision.

“Jews, Muslims, and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Biblical circumcision begins with Abraham,” said National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson. “No American government should restrict this historic tradition. Essential religious liberties are at stake."

"The proposed ban violates the First Amendment’s guarantee to exercise one’s religious beliefs," Anderson said in a statement.

How much of a national issue the ban becomes is yet to be seen. An effort to put a circumcision ban on the ballot in Santa Monica, California was abandoned last week.

Many Jewish and Muslim groups have come out against San Francisco’s proposed ban on the procedure that removes the foreskins of infant boys.

Jewish groups have suggested anti-Semitic motives behind the ban. Here’s Nancy J. Appel, associate regional director for the Anti-Defamation League:

This is a sensitive, serious issue where good people can disagree and which the Jewish community feels is an assault on its values and traditions going back thousands of years and centered in the Hebrew Bible.

And here’s influential Los Angeles Rabbi David Wolpe:

Some involved are simply opposed to religion (there are after all some misguided Jews arguing for the ban as well), some wish to target both Muslims and Jews. But can anyone doubt that there are anti-circumcision advocates who seize on this as a chance to hurt Jews and the Jewish tradition?

Many Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, alleged that a comic book called “Foreskin Man,” created by the proposed San Francisco ban’s author, draws on centuries-old stereotypes about Jews.

Just as the National Association of Evangelicals did Thursday, some Muslim groups have called the ban an attack on religious freedom:

A ban that specifically targets a religious practice of Muslims and that has been proven to be medically beneficial is a violation of First Amendment rights that guarantees all Americans the right to religious freedom.

The proposed ban would make it "unlawful to circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis" of anyone 17 or younger in San Francisco.

Violators could be jailed for a year or fined up to $1,000.

The group that drafted the ban's language says the procedure has adverse physical and psychological effects and likens it to female genital mutilation, a claim that doctors generally reject.

In November 2010, CNN reported that medical evidence had shown mixed risks and benefits of circumcision:

Apart from the San Francisco proposal, circumcisions are under scientific scrutiny.

While widespread in the United States, circumcision rates could be falling, according to recent surveys. About 65 percent of American male infants born in hospitals were circumcised in 1999, according to latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While nationally the circumcision rate has remained steady, the most dramatic decline occurred in the West, where it fell from 64 percent in 1974 to 37 percent in 1999.

Earlier this year, there were unconfirmed estimates that the circumcision rate had fallen to fewer than half for boys born in U.S. hospitals, The New York Times reported last summer, citing a federal report at the International AIDS Conference.

The American Academy of Pediatrics task force on circumcision has been reviewing recent research before it issues an official new position on the issue, probably next year, one panel member said.

"In the past, we've said newborn circumcision has benefits and risks," Dr. Douglas Diekema, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington, told CNN last year. "Given the fact that neither the risks nor benefits are particularly compelling, this is a decision to be made by parents."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: California • Islam • Judaism

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