U.S. intervenes in Europe’s circumcision wars


The Obama administration’s anti-Semitism monitor has added an issue to his office’s portfolio: defending circumcision in Europe.

Circumcision has become a top focus for Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. He has been using the pulpit his office provides to warn European governments that moves to ban ritual circumcision could lead to the demise of their countries’ Jewish communities.

“Because circumcision is essentially universal among Jews, this can shut down a community, especially a small vulnerable community,” Forman said.

No European country has outright banned the practice, but there is increasing pressure to do so, and some countries have imposed restrictions such as requiring medical supervision.

Forman is the State Department’s third anti-Semitism monitor. While he has maintained his predecessors’ focus on anti-Semitic acts and rhetoric worldwide, he said that protecting circumcision has become urgent because calls for bans are gaining legitimacy, particularly in Northern Europe.

In the past six months, Forman has raised the issue in meetings with ambassadors to Washington from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. He says he plans to raise it with envoys from other Northern European countries, where pressures to ban circumcision are most acute.

He also has asked the relevant desks at the State Department to have U.S. diplomats raise the issue in their meetings in their host countries.

Forman, who is Jewish, contrasted efforts to prohibit circumcision with bans on ritual animal slaughter — in place in some countries for decades — which at least have workarounds, for instance by importing frozen kosher meat.

“Circumcision, if you ban it, you have three choices: You do it underground illegally, you take a little 8-day-old baby across state lines — and if you have contiguous states [with bans], doing that becomes harder and harder — or three, you emigrate,” he said.

A comprehensive 2012 survey of European Jews by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found substantial majorities of Jews classifying a hypothetical ban on circumcision as a “big problem.”

“I will wait for the developments concerning a statutory regulation on the Brit Mila,” the survey quoted a German respondent as saying, using the Hebrew phrase for ritual circumcision. “This will be crucial for my decision on whether or not to leave Germany.”

Leaders of Jewish communities in countries that are contending with public pressure to ban the practice similarly warn that such a move could spur an exodus of Jews.

“I have said that a country which saved the Jews during the Second World War, if they would establish any law against circumcision, they would have done what Hitler wanted to do,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, chief rabbi to Denmark’s Jewish community of 7,500.

European officials say their countries have instituted protections for circumcision in response to public pressures.

“A ban on circumcision is not in question for the Norwegian government,” Frode Overland Andersen, a spokesman for his country’s Foreign Ministry, told JTA. German and Danish officials have issued similar assurances.

Jewish communal officials appreciate the assurances that circumcision will not be banned. Nonetheless, Jewish communal officials warn that the danger of circumcision bans in Europe has not substantially diminished.

“The trend is really moving against us in one considerable way, and that’s in terms of general European public opinion in Northern and Western Europe, particularly Scandinavia,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs.

Calls to ban circumcision gained momentum after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution last October that called for a public debate on the “rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity.” It lumped male circumcision with female genital mutilation and corporal punishment.

The assembly, however, lacks power. In April, the council’s leadership advised members that male circumcision was “by no means comparable” to female genital mutilation and recommended against further attempts to target the practice.

Nonetheless, children’s ombudsmen in a number of Northern European countries have called in recent years for restrictions on the practice, as have medical professionals’ groups.

Jewish leaders say that as Northern Europe becomes increasingly secularized, its populace tends to place more value on freedom from religious coercion than on freedom to practice religion.

“These are post-religious and post-ritual countries,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, the Israel-based chief rabbi to Norway’s 800 Jews. “And the vast majority of the population don’t have a clue what ritual is. They see ritual in general as something which belongs to some dark evil — they have medieval conceptions [of rituals] which have nothing to do with modern society.”

In one way, some Scandinavian governments have nodded toward circumcision opponents by including in their laws requirements that circumcision take place under medical supervision. Norway’s parliament passed such a law last month. Norwegian Jewish leaders applauded the measure because it allowed the rite to be carried out under a physician’s supervision.

In Sweden, said Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the country’s 20,000-strong Jewish community, circumcision is permitted until two months, which effectively shuts out the Muslim community, in which boys are often circumcised as toddlers.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe helps drive the anti-circumcision clamor, Jewish communal leaders say. If anything, sensitivities in Northern Europe about the 20th-century record on Jews are what has led governments to protect circumcision.

“One of the important parliamentarians told me it is convenient for us to put the Jews at the front of this issue,” Melchior said. “Because in the public in Norway still, it is much more difficult to go out against the Jews than the Muslims.”

Jewish officials said that anti-Semitism, while a concern in other areas, is not a factor in the debate, although Jewish stereotypes have emerged in its wake. When pro-circumcision activists in Germany cited American studies showing that the practice was practically harmless and had possible medical benefits, opponents suggested that American Jewish doctors had skewed the studies.

The key to preserving circumcision, according to Ervin Kohn, president of Norway’s Jewish community, is lobbying the political class, which is sensitive to international image.

“For most of the Norwegian people it is strange, so they believe all sorts of things and don’t know too much and are easily impressionable,” he said, regarding views on circumcision. “Those who know are the politicians — they made the right decision.”

Jewish communal leaders in the Scandinavian countries said that blunt intervention from abroad could backfire, noting the hackles that were raised when Israel’s government issued dire warnings against banning circumcision after last year’s Council of Europe vote.

However, they welcome Forman’s more subtle overtures, saying that the Obama administration’s signaling of its interest in ensuring a future for European Jewish communities has proven salutary.

“I’m still on a high from presenting President Obama to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah,” said Posner-Korosi, describing a visit to Stockholm last year during which Obama also honored Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. “It conveyed such a strong message, not just about Raoul Wallenberg but about anti-Semitism, about recognizing minorities.”

Looking out for minorities is the point, Forman said.

“Our priority is to make sure these communities don’t go out of existence,” he said. “It would be a tragedy not just for the communities. It would be a tragedy for Europe, for these cultures.”

Norway passes act that enshrines brit milah


The leader of Norway’s Jewish community praised his country’s parliament for passing an act enshrining ritual circumcision for boys.

“The act changes the paradigm of the debate about ritual circumcision in Norway in a very positive way and is therefore very significant,” Ervin Kohn, president of the Jewish Community in Oslo, told JTA Friday. “I am proud of my parliament and country for making the right decision, that will put norway on the path to becoming a place where neonatal circumcision is a common practice, like in the united States.”

The act was adopted last week in a vote by the Standing Committee on Health and Care Services of the Stortig, the Norwegian parliament. Submitted by Health Minister Bent Hoie amid a polarizing debate about the legal status of non-medical circumcision of boys under 18, the draft act was aimed at establishing practices that would settle the legal question around the custom, Hoie said.

The Act on Ritual Circumcision of Boys does, however, places limitations on the custom, which is known among Jews as Brith Milah and is performed on Jewish babies at the age of eight days. It stipulates that the procedure must be performed under the supervision and in the presence of a licensed physician, but it may be physically carried out by other persons.

Only two of the committee’s 20 members opposed passing the act, said Kohn, whose community has several hundred members.

Sweden, where some 20,000 Jews live, passed similar legislation in 2001.

The passage of the act comes amid a campaign by secularists and other activists in Scandinavia — including the children welfare ombudsmen of all Nordic countries — to ban ritual circumcision because they say it violates children’s rights to physical integrity and is comparable to female genital mutilation.

Far-right groups in Norway and elsewhere in Scandinavia, meanwhile, oppose the custom also on the grounds that they regard it as a foreign element in Nordic societies, which they say are under threat from immigration from Muslim countries.

Latest salvo in circumcision war, study cuts against ‘intactivist’ arguments


LOS ANGELES (JTA) — In the circumcision wars, circumcision has been winning some big battles.

A new survey of medical data going back more than two decades has found that the health benefits of circumcision far outweigh the risks. The publication of the article on April 4 by the medical journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings is the latest development to tip the scales in favor of circumcision in the long-running scientific, cultural and political struggles over the practice.

Some say this series of blows has damaged the efforts of American anti-circumcision activists.

“They’re in disarray. They used to be very organized, raising money and so forth,” said Edgar Schoen, a clinical professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and a longtime champion of the medical benefits of circumcision. “People don’t listen to them that much anymore.”

The authors of the new survey reviewed some 3,000 studies on male circumcision published since 1988 and found evidence indicating that circumcision significantly reduced the chances of contracting a number of diseases, including urinary tract infections, human papillomavirus and HIV.

“When considered together with ethical and human rights arguments, neonatal circumcision should logically be strongly supported and encouraged as an important evidence-based intervention akin to childhood vaccination,” wrote authors Brian Morris, Stefan Bailis and Thomas Wiswell.

Morris, the study’s lead author and a professor emeritus of medical sciences at the University of Sydney, has long been an advocate for the health benefits of male circumcision, authoring the 1999 book “In Favour of Circumcision.”
Circumcision opponents — known in some circles as “intactivists” — generally dismissed the new study.

“It’s very easy for researchers to design their studies and the analysis of their studies to come out with conclusions that they want,” said Ronald Goldman, author of “Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma.” “So they’re finding what they’re seeking, in other words. There’s no objectivity here.”

The so-called “circumcision wars,” as they have been dubbed by the media, spilled into the American political sphere in 2011 when anti-circumcision activists submitted more than 12,000 signatures to place a San Francisco city ballot measure to ban the practice. The measure spurred heated debate as pro- and anti-circumcision advocates traded accusations of anti-Semitism and child abuse.

However, before the measure could go before voters, a state judge ordered it struck from the ballot as a violation of state law. The California State

Legislature subsequently outlawed any local bans on circumcision.

The medical landscape tilted against anti-circumcision activists in 2012 when the American Academy of Pediatrics issued revised guidelines on the practice, stating for the first time that “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.” This marked a reversal of the academy’s neutral stance and undercut a key talking point of anti-circumcision activists, who had argued that the practice had no support from any major medical organization.

Anti-circumcision advocates disputed the notion that their efforts have run aground, but some acknowledged that the legal and political terrain has become more challenging.

“There was an enormous and immediate clampdown on any type of legislation gaining a foothold to protect male children in the United States,” said

Lloyd Schofield, an anti-circumcision activist who served as a spokesman for the San Francisco ballot measure.

However, Schofield and other anti-circumcision activists point to Europe as more receptive territory.

Attempts to limit or ban non-medical circumcision of boys under 18 have intensified in Europe in recent years. The efforts gained steam after a German court ruled in 2012 that circumcision amounted to causing bodily harm — a ruling that triggered brief bans in various locales in three German-speaking countries.

Last October, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe issued a non-binding resolution condemning the practice of circumcision for boys as a “violation of the physical integrity of children.” Several Scandinavian political parties and medical associations are seeking a ban, as are the children’s welfare ombudsmen of Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Jewish groups have pushed back strongly against efforts to ban the practice.

Part of the trans-Atlantic difference in attitudes may be rooted in cultural practices. The study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings cited an estimate that only 10 percent of European males are circumcised. In the United States, the authors calculated that neonatal circumcision rates had dropped from 83.2 percent in the 1960s to 77.1 percent in 2010 as a result of demographic and policy changes.

One of the primary reasons cited by the authors for declining circumcision rates is the country’s rapidly growing proportion of Hispanics, who tend to circumcise their children at far lower rates than non-Hispanic blacks and whites. The report cited figures from the Centers for Disease Control and

Prevention indicating that only 44 percent of Mexican-American male infants were circumcised, compared with 76 percent of black males and 91 percent of white males. However, the report also noted that circumcision rates among all three groups appear to be increasing.

Another major factor cited by the report for lower circumcision rates was the reduced number of states that provide Medicaid coverage for circumcision.

Currently, 18 states do not cover the procedure through Medicaid, up from just six in 1999. Anti-circumcision groups have urged additional states to cease covering circumcisions.

The new study calculates that hospital circumcision rates are 24 percent higher in states that cover the procedure through Medicaid compared to those that do not, after controlling for other factors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2012 policy statement explicitly urged insurance providers, including Medicaid, to cover neonatal circumcisions.

Though there have been reported efforts in several states to restore Medicaid coverage, to date none have made the switch.

Douglas Diekema, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and a member of the pediatrics academy’s task force on circumcision, urged caution in interpreting the study’s findings, saying that circumcision rates are notoriously difficult to calculate due to the number that are performed outside of hospitals. However, he said the impact on decisions by parents would be driven not so much by the data as by media attention.

“It’s not so much that this paper is so radically important as that it seems to be getting a great deal of press,” Diekema said. “Press coverage gets the attention of parents.”

 

Israel: European anti-circumcision motion ‘fosters hate’


Israel called on the Council of Europe to rescind a resolution which is “fostering hate” by equating non-medical circumcision of boys with female genital mutilation.

“This resolution casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe, and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe,” Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in a statement Friday. “We call on the Council of Europe to act without delay in order to annul it.”

The resolution in question was part of a report which the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe passed on Oct. 2. The Council of Europe is the continent’s main human rights body. Its resolutions are non-binding.

Entitled “Children’s Right to Physical Integrity,” the report called non-medical circumcision of boys a “violation of the physical integrity of children” and mentioned it along with female genital mutilation.

“Any comparison of this tradition to the reprehensible and barbaric practice of female genital mutilation is either appalling ignorance, at best, or defamation and anti- religious hatred, at worst,” the ministry said.

Israel rarely condemns motions by the Council of Europe or other institutions that do not concern it directly.

“Claims that circumcision harms young boys’ health and body are false, and do not rest on any scientific evidence,” the statement said.

Several European Jewish groups have condemned the resolution, including Milah UK and the European Jewish Congress.

Ban on non-medical circumcision introduced in Sweden


A bill introduced in the Swedish parliament would ban the non-medical circumcision of males younger than 18.

Two lawmakers from the rightist Sweden Democrats party, noting that female genital mutilation is illegal in Sweden, submitted the bill to the Riksdag on Tuesday.

Bjorn Soder and Per Ramhorn wrote in the measure that “boys should have the same right to avoid both complications of reduced sensitivity in the genitals, painful erections, increased risk of kidney damage and psychological distress by permanent removal, and the tremendous violation of privacy that circumcision actually means.”

The bill proposes to scrap legislation from 2001 that says circumcision of newborns is permissible if it is performed by a “licensed professional.”

Jewish ritual circumcisers, or mohelim, in Sweden receive their licenses from the country’s health board, but a nurse or doctor must still be present when they perform the procedure.

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party was established in 1988 but only made it into parliament following unprecedented gains in the 2010 elections, when it garnered 5.7 percent of the votes, or 20 seats out of 349 in Sweden’s parliament. The opposition party is the sixth largest faction in the Riksdag.

Ritual circumcision of underage boys increasingly has come under attack in Scandinavia, both by left-wing secularists as well as right-wingers who fear the influence of immigration from Muslim countries.

The opposition followed a ruling last year by a German court in Cologne that ritual circumcision amounted to a criminal act. The ruling was overturned but triggered temporary bans in Austria and Switzerland.

Sweden has about 20,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslims, according to a U.S. State Department report from 2011.

Appeal unlikely for S.F. circumcision ban ballot measure


Time appears to have run out for the proponents of a San Francisco ballot measure that would have banned circumcision of any boy under 18 in the city.

The measure’s backers reportedly had been considering appealing the July 28 ruling by Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi that struck the proposition from the ballot. But with a key step in the process of producing San Francisco’s ballots now complete, there appears to be little chance that the measure will be put to voters on Nov. 8.

San Francisco’s Ballot Simplification Committee, the governmental body tasked with producing short digests of measures for the city’s ballots, held its first open meeting on Aug. 1. The committee approved digests for eight ballot measures in the course of its meetings, the last one on Aug. 10. No digest was produced for the measure aiming to ban circumcision.

“The court ordered this measure not to go on the ballot; we’re following that order,” said John Arntz, elections director at San Francisco’s Department of Elections. “I haven’t heard of anything that would potentially change the status of this measure.”

Lloyd Schofield, the proponent of the measure, could not be reached last week for comment. In an e-mail on Aug. 3, before the committee had completed its work, Schofield said he was unable to comment specifically on any future legal or legislative actions aimed at advancing the effort to prohibit male infant circumcision.

“Our objective is to protect the choice of ALL men, we are looking at every option,” Schofield wrote. “We are in this for the long run and will ultimately do what we think is best to achieve that goal.”

Opinion: The realities of the circumcision debate


There is nothing esthetically appealing about a Brit Milah, the circumcision procedure performed on an 8 day old Jewish baby boy.  To witness a barely one week old child strapped down with Velcro to a “Circ Board” in sight of everyone gathered is visually unappealing, if not spiritually uninspiring.  If that were not enough, some officiants still engage in Metzitzah—the oral suction of blood from the circumcision. If not done by mouth directly, a pipette is used.

To make matters worse, some ceremonies are complete with crude, unholy behavior and locker room jokes. I can’t repeat what one officiant said as he un-swaddled his grandson in preparation of the baby’s Brit Milah.

Is there any wonder why Jewish parents are slowly opting out of the ancient ritual of circumcision performed on their newborn sons independent of the ongoing medical debate as to whether or not the procedure’s even warranted?  Is there any wonder why circumcision is currently under attack with the possibility of it being outlawed in the destination city of Santa Monica, should it be put to a vote this September?

But leaving aside all the issues that may or may not compel one to circumcise their son, the decision is for the family to ultimately decide, not the government—or even one’s religion for that matter.

As a congregational rabbi, I can only make the case to my congregants for having their son’s circumcised in accordance with Jewish law and tradition.  I can actively recommend to them officiants who conduct ceremonies with the utmost professionalism, skill and compassion.

I can tell them the ceremonies to which these hand-selected officiants preside are warm, offering meaningful words and explanations.  They welcome the child into the covenant of God and the Jewish people making clear that our hopes for this young life—once grown—consist of “Torah, marriage and acts of goodness.”

I can teach them the overarching purpose of a Brit Milah is not biological, but rather theological. It is a physical reminder intentionally made on the male organ of progeny.  It states before God and community the male drive, be it sexual or otherwise, is a good and healthy force. But left unchecked and without limits can become destructive and all consuming.

I can inform them that the current debate among doctors and researchers regarding circumcision is mixed.  I can tell them that while science is an indispensable discipline to the enrichment of life—it is far from exact and constantly changing.

It seems that over a 7 to 10 year period, conventional “state-of-the-art” medical wisdom is turned on its head and re-evaluated.  I recently took a CPR course that contradicted and rewrote what was taught to me just 4 years earlier.  Today circumcision is under scrutiny.  Even though all over Africa where AIDS kills scores of people, billboards exhort men to get circumcised, since circumcision prevents AIDS in many cases. Years ago it was recommended without hesitation. I suspect 7 to 10 years hence doctors and researchers will again offer a different and new perspective on the subject.

In the meantime the wisdom of a 3,500-year-old Jewish tradition continues to advocate circumcision on religious grounds.  Parents who choose to have their 8-day-old son circumcised are not mutilating his genitalia, anymore than piercing a little girl’s ears is mutilation.  Furthermore, it is un-provable that a child who is circumcised, as a baby will grow up having less sexual satisfaction as an adult.

True, no religion is above the law. No one who is found guilty of a legal or moral trespass should be able to hide under the protection of his or her faith.  The Biblical days when someone guilty of a crime could find safe haven within the confines—“the horns”—of the priestly altar are thankfully long past.  According to age-old rabbinic law, the law of the land is the law.

But those who advocate outlawing circumcision to anyone 18 years or younger equating it with a clitoridectomy are deeply misguided.  One is genital mutilation, denying a woman sexual pleasure, the other—male circumcision—is not.  I can’t help but think underlying the anti-circumcision movement is a disdain for religious expression cloaked in a concern for a child’s well being.

The American Jewish Committee calls the movement to prohibit circumcision as “making a direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the U.S.”  That may be true.  What is truer still, we have far more substantive issues to fill our ballots with come this September and November, banning circumcision performed on children at the request of their parents and caretakers is not one of them.

In foreskin fight, even terminology is being disputed


According to the proponent of a ballot initiative to prohibit the act of surgically removing a male baby’s foreskin, the term “circumcision” is nothing but a euphemism.

“Having your foreskin amputated is probably more like it,” said Jena Troutman, a doula and mother of two sons, who initiated the process of petitioning Santa Monica to include the initiative on a future ballot.

On May 19, Troutman filed a “Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition” with the Santa Monica City Clerk aimed to prohibit what she called “medically unnecessary genital cutting of male minors.”

That language is being rejected by city officials. The official title, which was prepared by Santa Monica City Attorney Marsha Moutrie, is “An Initiative Measure Amending the Municipal Code to Prohibit Circumcising a Male Under the Age of 18 Except in a Medical Emergency.”

To get the initiative onto the November 2012 ballot in Santa Monica, backers will need about 6,000 registered voters to sign a petition that includes that language. More than 12,000 people in San Francisco signed a petition that successfully put a measure aimed at prohibiting “male circumcision” on the November 2011 ballot.

The term “circumcision” was used on the San Francisco petition and will be included on the Santa Monica petition, in spite of each measure’s backers having initially referred to their initiatives as measures prohibiting “genital cutting of male minors.”

Already the language of the self-described “intactivists” has provoked strong reactions from Jewish community leaders. A coalition led by the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council is working to defeat that city’s proposition at the ballot box. Because the measure has not yet qualified for inclusion on the Santa Monica ballot, Jewish leaders in Los Angeles have been less vocal so far. At press time, a joint statement opposing the proposed measure was expected to be released in the coming days.

Jewish groups primarily are fighting the ballot measure on the basis that it infringes upon freedom of religion, however many are also accusing the measure’s backers of using misleading language.

“These people went out with a false approach, and they got this on the ballot by convincing people that they were signing something against genital mutilation, not something against religious circumcision,” said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, the national liaison from Chabad Lubavitch to Jewish Federations of North America.

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Gil Leeds, a rabbi and certified mohel (ritual circumciser), called the language of mutilation used by the proposal’s backers toxic and deceptive. “The Hebrew word for ritual circumcision, bris, literally means ‘a covenant,’ ” Leeds wrote. “It is a covenantal act that Jews have practiced since the time of the patriarch Abraham more than three-and-a-half millennia ago.”

The language of the San Francisco proposition and the proposed Santa Monica ballot measure originates with a San Diego-based group, MGMbill.org, which was initially intent on pursuing federal legislation prohibiting what it calls “male genital mutilation.” The language is based upon a similarly worded federal law, passed in 1997, that prohibits female genital mutilation.

Election law experts said that the actual language of the propositions that appear on each ballot could be contested. In both Santa Monica and San Francisco, city officials have to give “an objective title and summary” to the proposition, Colleen McAndrews, an election law attorney in Santa Monica, said.

“If they don’t like it, they have an opportunity to litigate it,” McAndrews said. “If the court deems it ‘false and misleading,’ the court can strike the words or rewrite them.”

It appears likely that the ballots, like the petitions, will use the word “circumcision” and not “genital mutilation” or “genital cutting.”

“American society has always regarded male and female circumcision very differently,” Howard Friedman, professor of law emeritus at University of Toledo and author of the Religion Clause blog, wrote in an e-mail. “It has generally been felt that government has a compelling interest in outlawing female circumcision because of the physical, psychological and health effects on girls. On the other hand, the widespread acceptance of male circumcision in the U.S. is not seen as giving the government a compelling interest in outlawing it,” Friedman wrote.

The medical benefits of circumcision — which are cited by opponents of a ban and disputed by backers — are sure to have an impact on the debate as it progresses.

The language used by each side is not likely to change anytime soon, however.

“There’s a baby male, and that baby male — either for medical ritual or religious ritual — is having its foreskin removed,” Suzanne Wertheim, a visiting lecturer at UCLA, said, illustrating what a neutral description of the act in question might look like.

But no matter what the courts or the voters decide, Wertheim, a linguistic anthropologist, said that people on each side of the argument are unlikely to start speaking neutrally.

“There are people who say that abortion should not be legal and should not be an option for women, and there are people who say that abortion should be legal and should be an option for women,” Wertheim said. “That is a neutral phrasing of those stances. But no one ever discusses abortion that way.”

S.F. archbishop raps proposed circumcision ban


San Francisco’s Catholic archbishop expressed his opposition to a city ballot initiative that would ban circumcision for minors.

Archbishop George Niederauer condemned the initiative in a May 23 letter sent to the San Francisco Chronicle, his archdiocese’s newspaper reported.

“Although the issue does not concern Christians directly, as a religious leader I can only view with alarm the prospect that this misguided initiative would make it illegal for Jews and Muslims who practice their religion to live in San Francisco—for that is what the passage of such a law would mean,” he wrote.

“Apart from the religious aspect, the citizens of San Francisco should be outraged at the prospect of city government dictating to parents in such a sensitive matter regarding the health and hygiene of their children.”

The initiative garnered enough petition signatures to appear on the city’s Nov. 8 ballot. Jewish groups have condemned the proposed ban and have been joined in their opposition by the San Francisco Interfaith Council.