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Protecting Religious Practices

Congressional Action
112th Congress (2011-2012)

Laws and government regulations that impinge–even unintentionally—on the religious practices of individuals inevitably arouse opposition.  In 2011, an effort in the city of San Francisco to curtail circumcision of boys, a traditional religious practice among Jews and Muslims, threatened to become a national issue.

In May 2011, activists in the city of San Francisco gathered sufficient signatures from city residents to place on a city-wide ballot a proposed ban on circumcision of boys.  The measure offered no exemptions for religious practices.

Proponents of the ban declared that circumcision was a painful and damaging surgery (a form of genital mutilation) conducted on minors, with questionable medical benefits.  Opponents of the ban, notably Jewish and Muslim groups, opposed the measure on the grounds that it would infringe upon their right to freely practice their respective religions.

In response to the proposed ban, Representative Brad Sherman (representing California’s 27th- District) introduced the Religious and Parental Rights Defense Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This bill would prohibit states and their political subdivisions from banning the practice of circumcision.

In July 2011, a judicial ruling declared that medical procedures are regulated by the state, not individual municipalities.  As a result, the city of San Francisco removed the proposed ban on circumcision from the ballot.  In October 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that prohibits California’s local governments from restricting the practice of male circumcision.

If the proposed ban had been approved by San Francisco voters, the city would have become the first municipality in the United States to prohibit circumcision.  Resolution of the issue at the state level prevented it, for the time being, from becoming a nationwide controversy.

Legislation introduced in the 112th Congress:

    • H.R.2400: Religious and Parental Rights Defense Act of 2011
      Sponsor: Representative Brad Sherman
      Introduced on June 24, 2011

      Summary: Prohibits states and local governments from passing laws or issuing regulations that inhibit the circumcision of males under the age of 18 years, as long as their parent or guardian has consented to the circumcision.  The ban does not apply to laws and regulations that are limited to ensuring that all circumcisions are performed in a hygienic manner.

    • H.R.1191: Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act of 2011
      Sponsor: Representative John Lewis
      Introduced on March 17, 2011

      Summary: Directs the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund for the deposit of funds paid by (or on behalf of) taxpayers who have certified in writing that they are conscientious objectors opposed to participation in war in any form based upon their sincerely held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.  Money deposited in the Fund is to be allocated annually to any appropriation not for a military purpose.

Information on proposed legislation can be found on the Library of Congress website: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php