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Rep: ‘Foreign law’ bill could cut Jewish circumcisions

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Republican lawmaker’s bill to ban “foreign” and “Sharia” law has upset a Jewish legislator and a Muslim lawmaker who call it “xenophobic” and say it could end up banning male circumcision at Jewish ceremonies.

Freshman Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, has sparked the outrage of Metro Detroit Democratic Reps. Jeremy Moss, who is Jewish, and Abdullah Hammoud, who is Muslim, by sponsoring legislation unveiled Thursday that would prohibit “foreign laws” in Michigan.

They learned about the bill through a memo from Hoitenga asking for bill co-sponsors. So far, 11 Republicans are co-sponsors, including Reps. Jim Runestad of White Lake, Lana Theis of Brighton, Peter Lucido of Shelby Township and Gary Glenn of Midland.

The measure targets Muslims and Jews because it could give clout to those seeking to outlaw a Jewish male circumcision ceremony called a brit milah, Moss says. It also “perpetuates xenophobia and Islamophobia,” Hammoud said.

The Detroit News obtained the lawmaker’s memo, in which Hoitenga said she believes a Detroit emergency room physician charged last week with mutilating two 7-year-old girls’ genitalia was practicing “Sharia law.”

It has been Jewish tradition to circumcise 8-day-old male children for more than 3,000 years, Moss said.

“Her bill is going to have unintended consequences well beyond what she thinks is religious law and is going to encroach on my religious values and the religious values of any other religion in this state — if she thinks that religious laws are considered ‘foreign laws,’ ” he said.

Hoitenga defended the legislation. She said it “does not target any specific group or religion” and is meant to reinforce “existing protections already provided on the federal level.”

Federal law prohibits female circumcision.

More than 200 million girls and women have had their genitalia mutilated in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, according to the World Health Organization. The practice is recognized internationally as a human rights violation.

“If you have not heard by now, a doctor in Detroit is being charged with operating an underground clinic that actively engaged in genital mutilation on young girls, essentially practicing a fundamentalist version of Sharia law,” Hoitenga wrote House colleagues in the memo.

“I have a (bill) on my desk this week that would prohibit the practice of foreign laws, including Sharia law,” she continued. “I believe we must send a message that these practices shall not be tolerated in the state of Michigan.”

Hoitenga said in an email that her bill “simply clarifies that foreign laws that are inconsistent with American laws will not be recognized in our courts.”

“It’s important to affirm our state and federal constitutions and the freedoms they provide, as they are constantly under assault,” she added. “A clear message must be sent that our state will not tolerate the application of any law that would result in inhumane actions against women and children, even if such are accepted in other countries.”

Hammoud said the proposal “does nothing to further protect girls from mutilation.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan, called Hoitenga’s proposed legislation “unconstitutional” and “anti-Muslim” in a letter he sent to Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard and House Minority Leader Sam Singh.

Walid said the bill “would send a message that Islam is an officially disfavored religion in the state of Michigan. It would also be in clear violation of the First Amendment’s command that government remain neutral in matters of religion.”