Feature: Parenting

Proposed Circumcision Ban Runs Afoul of First Amendment

Author: Emily Paster
Published: June 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm
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Recently, anti-circumcision activists in two California cities, Santa Monica and San Francisco, have attempted to place initiatives on the ballot for the November election that would ban the circumcision of boys under the age of 17. These activists argue that circumcision is a barbaric practice, akin to female genital mutilation, without any health or hygiene justifications.

The San Francisco proponents of the ban have gathered enough signatures (over 7,000) to ensure that the initiative will appear on the November ballot, while the Santa Monica effort appears to be stalled. One of activists who has been instrumental in the San Francisco effort stated that his ultimate goal is a federal ban on the practice. Although circumcision is an important religious ritual to many, the San Francisco ballot initiative does not contain any religious exemption.

As an American Jew, I am deeply shocked that several thousand of my fellow citizens signed a petition to allow others to vote on whether a fundamental practice of my religion should be criminalized. To put it simply, the supporters of this ballot initiative want to put me and my rabbi in jail for practicing our faith. Circumcision is a ritual at the core of the Jewish religion and plays a significant role in the Muslim faith as well. For Jews, circumcision represents the covenant of our people with God and is the means by which male babies are brought into our faith.

The idea that in America of all places, Jews and Muslims would not be able to practice their religions in this most basic of ways is horrifying; it goes against the basic values of our nation. It is as offensive as a city trying to ban baptism. Is not baptism the way that Christian babies are brought into that faith? The anti-circumcision activists might argue that baptism is different because it is not a medical procedure and leaves no lasting mark on the baby. Well, I agree that baptism does not leave a lasting physical mark as circumcision does, but surely Christians believe that it alters the soul of the baby forever. And Christian babies have no more choice about whether to be baptized than Jewish babies do about whether to be circumcised.

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Article Author: Emily Paster

Emily is a Washington DC native now living in the near west suburbs of Chicago. A lawyer by training, she works part-time teaching at a local law school and spends most of her time taking care of her family and volunteering in her community. …

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