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USA : Efforts to Ban Circumcision in California

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — When a group of activists proposed banning circumcision in San Francisco last fall, many people simply brushed them aside. Even in that liberal seaside city, it seemed implausible that thousands of people would support an effort to outlaw an ancient ritual that Jews and Muslims believe fulfills a commandment issued by God.

But last month, the group collected the more than 7,100 signatures needed to get a measure on the fall ballot that would make it illegal to snip the foreskin of a minor within city limits. Now a similar effort is under way in Santa Monica to get such a measure on the ballot for November 2012.

If the anticircumcision activists (they prefer the term “intactivists”) have their way, cities across the country may be voting on whether to criminalize a practice that is common in many American hospitals. Activists say the measures would protect children from an unnecessary medical procedure, calling it “male genital mutilation.”

“This is the furthest we’ve gotten, and it is a huge step for us,” said Matthew Hess, an activist based in San Diego who wrote both bills.

Mr. Hess has created similar legislation for states across the country, but those measures never had much traction. Now he is fielding calls from people who want to organize similar movements in their cities.

“This is a conversation we are long overdue to have in this country,” he said. “The end goal for us is making cutting boys’ foreskin a federal crime.”

Jewish groups see the ballot measures as a very real threat, likening them to bans on circumcision that existed in Soviet-era Russia and Eastern Europe and in ancient Roman and Greek times. The circumcision of males is an inviolable requirement of Jewish law that dates back to Abraham’s circumcision of himself in the Book of Genesis.

They say the proposed ban is an assault on religious freedom that could have a widespread impact all over the country. Beyond the biblical, there are emotional connections : checking for circumcision was one of the ways Jewish children could be culled from their peers by Nazis and the czar’s armies.

“People are shocked that it has reached this level because there has never been this kind of a direct assault on a Jewish practice here,” said Marc Stern, associate general counsel for the American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group. “This is something that American Jews have always taken for granted — that something that was so contested elsewhere but here, we’re safe and we’re secure.”

Mr. Hess also writes an online comic book, “Foreskin Man,” with villains like “Monster Mohel.” On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying the comic employed “grotesque anti-Semitic imagery.”...
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/us/05circumcision.html?_r=0

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