Latest religious liberties fight: a Bay Area ban on circumcision

San Francisco, USA - A group of “intactivists” wants to make it illegal in San Francisco to “circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the foreskin, testicle or penis” of anyone younger than 18.

The move, naturally, has attracted the attention of the Jewish community, for whom circumcision is a religious rite.

If successful, the ban might infringe on religious freedom guaranteed in the First Amendment, Melvin Konner argues in the Jewish Daily Forward.

“Constitutional or not, it is without a doubt a slap in the face to Muslims and Jews, an attack on their rights to privacy that would keep them from continuing a millennial tradition of their ancestors,” Konner writes, “not to mention keeping them from raising their children according to their own conscience and values.”

The Jewish physican and scholar says circumcision has “no known health consequences” and may also offer some benefits, “including protecting against some sexually transmitted infections, as well as against cervical and penile cancers.”

But Konner's main issue is circumcision's religious role.

“This is a serious tradition, one for which Jews have fought and sacrificed throughout our long history,” he writes. “The proposed ban should and will be opposed by all right-thinking people of any religious faith and by decent people without faith who recognize the rights of parents to decide, within broad limits, what is best for their own children.”

For a counterargument, the Forward published the views of Eli Ungar-Sargon, an independent filmmaker who grew up in an Orthodox home. Ungar-Sargon, whose first film, “Cut,” was about circumcision and Jewish identity, called infant circumcision “an ethically problematic act.”

By surgically removing “the most sensitive part of the penis,” he writes, “we permanently alter a person’s sexual experience and we do so without their consent.”

Pro-foreskin proponents say they have enough signatures to put the proposed ban, making circumcision a misdemeanor, on November's ballot.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco InterFaith Council, which includes Muslim and Christian groups, will throw all its weight behind opposition to the measure, according to a report at The San Francisco Examiner.

"This is an important tradition, and when it comes to an attack on religion, or choice, I think Muslims, Jews, Christians will all respond," Dan Sandman, the director of the San Francisco Anti-Defamation League told The Examiner. “This is a time to come together.”