Beware Foreskin Man

Smita Ghosh

San Francisco’s proposed circumcision ban has prompted many an either-or question: “Are the Circumcision Opponents Anti-Semitic or Sexually Repressed?,”  asks one commentator, a Californian Rabbi; “Is circumcision insane or healthy?,” wonders another.  San Francisco residents decided in May to put the proposed ban on this November’s ballot — and people are eager to discuss the topic. Many criticise the anti-Semitic sentiments that the ban seems to inspire, citing “Foreskin Man,” a comic book published in support of the campaign.  While discussing the ban, America’s bloggerati has dabbled in questions of religious tolerance, revisiting Free Exercise clause jurisprudence and religious freedom more generally.  These discussions — particularly those that bridge often fractious religious lines — have been fruitful and inspiring.

We should take a hint from them when we review the Islamophobia of the GOP debates.

Circumcision tends to be practiced by both Muslims and Jews, and the ban has united religious organizations in opposition.  The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 churches, announced its solidarity with Jewish and Muslim practitioners last week: “Jews, Muslims and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Circumcision begins with Abraham. No American government should restrict this historic tradition.”  For what it’s worth, the makers of Foreskin Man seem to share the NAE’s cross-religious outlook, and are rumored to be planning a third issue that will focus on Muslim instead of Jewish characters .

Eugene Volokh suggests that the anti-Semitism of ban supporters like “Foreskin Man” wouldn’t necessarily be enough to convince a court that the ban was “motivated by religious hostility,” which would show that the facially neutral law violated the Free Exercise clause. But this high standard aside, the hostility underlying  Foreskin Man has political, if not legal significance.  Weeks after the introduction of the San Francisco ban, some news outlets are starting to see the ban as a referendum on religious freedom.

The ban is unlikely to amount to more than a talking point, perhaps because of the ugly religious hostility that it inspired.  A U.S. Representative has already introduced a bill that would prevent the measure  from ever being enacted , and a similar initiative in Santa Monica has failed to even qualify for the ballot.

But the ensuing discussion will hopefully prove instructive, especially in the upcoming election cycle.  Several GOP Presidential candidates reiterated their ‘discomfort’ with Muslim Americans at last week’s debate, reviving anti-Muslim tropes that underlie many modern political discussions.  One hopes that these statements — like Foreskin Man’s crude imagery — will stimulate crucial conversation about religious tolerance.


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