Circumcision set
The tools of ritual circumcision in the Jewish faith. Image: istolethetv/Flickr/CC BY

Lloyd Schofield, a San Francisco resident, has successfully collected 7,700 valid signatures in his campaign to legally ban male circumcision. Election officials have confirmed that his proposal will be on the city’s November ballot.  However, he is being opposed by U.S. Representative Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who is proposing a bill called the Religious and Parental Rights Defense Act of 2011 which seeks to prevent San Francisco and other municipalities from banning circumcision.

A punishable offense

If Schofield’s measure is passed, circumcision on males under the age of 18 would become a punishable misdemeanor offense. It is the first such proposal to make it to the voters. The practice, however, is a custom with religious significance for many faiths.

‘A deeply important ceremony’

“Male circumcision has been practiced for thousands of years and is a deeply important ceremony for two major religions,” said Congressman Sherman, who is Jewish. “Circumcision is obligatory for Jewish-born males — it must be performed on the eighth day after birth and is only postponed in the case of threat to the life or health of the child. Muslim parents also circumcise their male children.”

“To infringe the religious rights of so many Americans, San Francisco should have some compelling medical reason,” continues Sherman. “However, the medical literature actually shows clear benefits of male circumcision.”

Health benefits and disadvantages

The debate over the health benefits and disadvantages of circumcision has been going on for some time. The United Nation AIDS agency study states that male circumcision offers a 60 percent reduction in HIV risk. Others say the practice is unnecessary mutilation, painful and can be dangerous.

“Parents are really guardians, and guardians have to do what’s in the best interest of the child. It’s his body. It’s his choice,” said Schofield.

A fierce public debate

Public debate has been heated and fierce. “For a city that’s renowned for being progressive and open-minded, to even have to consider such an intolerant proposition … it sets a dangerous precedent for all cities and states,” said Rabbi Gil Yosef Leeds, a “mohel,” who routinely performs ritual circumcisions on Jewish infants.

The ‘intactivist’ movement

Many backers of the circumcision ban are members of a nationwide movement who call themselves “intactivists.” They want to end all male circumcision in the U.S. A similar bill proposed by a New York intactivist group failed last year in the Massachusetts Legislature.


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