Circumcision ban talk raises hackles of SoCal congressman

When Brad Sherman heard that there were anti-circumcision comic books circulating that depict mohels as sinister villains, he was incensed.

And he decided to do something about it. That something was writing an Act of Congress.

Earlier this week, Sherman announced he will introduce into the House of Representatives the Religious and Parental Rights Defense Act, a bill that would prevent municipalities such as San Francisco from banning circumcision.

Rep. Brad Sherman

Sherman is the Democratic congressman from California’s 27th district, located in the San Fernando Valley. He is also Jewish, and strongly opposed to the proposed circumcision ban that will appear on the San Francisco ballot this fall.

He had been following the effort to criminalize circumcision in the city (the proposed ban allows for no religious exceptions), as well as a similar, now-aborted attempt to ban the practice in Santa Monica.

“I’m sitting around reading the paper,” Sherman told j., “when I read of this proposal in San Francisco. I said, ‘That’s not good.’ Then I saw this ridiculous comic book and decided I’d better do something. I whipped out a memo to my legal counsel, and put forward ideas on how this is indeed a federal issue.”

San Diego–based anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess, the author of the bill that would ban circumcision in San Francisco, created the comic book, “Foreskin Man,” last year. In recent weeks, images from the comic have been picked up by the press and widely criticized as anti-Semitic.

Sherman not only defends the practice of circumcision as a religious right sacred to both Jews and Muslims, he

also blasts the proposed ban on jurisdictional grounds.

“It’s by no means clear that cities should be deciding on medical practice,” he said. “It’s usually decided at state level. The state licenses physicians and surgeons on which procedures can be carried out. At least 99.99 percent of all laws nationwide that deal with medical practice are not city laws.”

Sherman says he has just begun the process of lining up bipartisan support for the bill. One early co-sponsor is Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, the only Muslim member of the House of Representatives.

As for any precedence of federal law trumping the will of city voters, Sherman cites the example of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. That act gave religious institutions the ability to avoid zoning restrictions on their property, thus exempting municipal decrees.

Will Sherman’s bill pass in time to trump the local election this November? The lawmaker is not sure.

“I wish I could say this is a slam dunk,” he said. “Congress moves slowly, especially if there isn’t a catastrophe waiting unless you act quickly. The fact that brises might be moved to Oakland is not at the same level.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.