From a Time Magazine article about the proposed circumcision ban in San Francisco:
The San Francisco debate over circumcision initially centered on the value of the procedure itself — opponents call it barbaric, supporters point to its long tradition and say it prevents disease. But increasingly the debate is becoming one about religion, in which critics accuse backers of the referendum of bigotry and insist a ban would violate the First Amendment’s religious freedoms. [...]
Still, the drafters of the San Francisco referendum could have avoided the religious issue — and kept the focus on the harms and benefits of circumcision — if they had included an exception for circumcisions done for religious reasons. Jews, whose religious traditions require male children to be circumcised eight days after birth, and Muslims, who also practice circumcision, are a small part of the city’s population.
Instead, the referendum expressly states that the ban would apply equally to religious circumcisions.
By not including a religious exemption, the writers of San Francisco’s proposed ban guaranteed that what should have been a debate about boy’s rights to an intact body, and about health issues, has become a debate about if they themselves are bigots. That’s neither smart nor effective.1
Circumcision ban advocates might respond that Jewish and Muslim boys deserve to remain intact as much as anyone else. But talking about the proposed ban as if it would actually prevent circumcisions among Jews and Muslims is unrealistic. Determined parents — and after this campaign, Jewish and Muslim parents in San Francisco are, I’d wager, more determined than ever — can drive out of town to have the circumcision done, or have the circumcision done at home (as many Jews already do).
The only thing a circumcision ban could do, other than help start some conversations, is change how parents who don’t feel strongly about circumcision choose. Some parents currently having their sons circumcised, not because they’re determined to do so, but because circumcision is more-or-less the default choice in many US hospitals. Those are the parents who might change what they do because of a ban. But the ban will never pass if it doesn’t include a religious exemption.
- Actually, there’s good reason to think that the folks behind the San Francisco ban are in fact antisemites. But perhaps some future proposed bans will come from people who aren’t dragging around huge “we are bigoted jerks” baggage. [↩]