Circumcision Ban Challenged: Religious Leaders File Lawsuit Today

Categories: Local News
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Taylor Friedman
No, this isn't a bris ceremony
Update 1:25 p.m.: Jewish and Muslim plaintiffs file lawsuit challenging San Francisco's circumcision ban. Read more after the jump.

We knew this was coming -- it was just a matter of time. The Jewish community has united with other religious groups to legally challenge San Francisco's ballot measure criminalizing circumcision for males under the age of 18.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit today asking the California Superior Court to remove the proposition from the November ballot. The plaintiffs and their attorneys explained today how state law clearly prohibits local governments from restricting medical procedures.

And circumcision, they say, is a medical procedure. Not only does it help reduce diseases such as HIV, it increases sexual pleasure. Health benefits aside, religious organizations have argued that the measure is not only offensive but unconstitutional.

The lawsuit specifically targets San Francisco's Elections Chief, John Arntz, who is solely responsible for certifying all measures that make it to the ballot.

Lawyers and Jewish leaders have said over and over again that banning circumcision, which has been a religious practice in the Jewish community for more than 3,000 years, would violate their freedom of religion.

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Taylor Friedman
Religious groups say the proposed ban on circumcision should be "cut" from the ballot
Attorney Michael Jacobs argued today that while he believes that voters would strike down the initiative come November, he doesn't want it to get that far. Putting an "unwise and unconstitutional" measure on the ballot is a waste of city money, he said, not to mention a source of great distress for the Jewish and Muslim communities.
"There are anti-Semitic overtones to the initiative ... that adds to the perception of threat by the Jewish community," Jacobs said.

Holding hands on the podium, Jewish couple and plaintiffs Jeremy and Jennifer Benjamin said that if they were to have a son, they want the option of circumcising him. The ballot measure has made them feel "illegitimate and unwanted in our own city," they said.

Brian McBeth, an assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine at the UCSF, and a mohel  -- a person certified to perform circumcisions -- said if such a ban were to become law, he could be fined or possibly jailed for performing one of the most common surgical procedures.

"I believe it would take my rights away as a Muslim," said Leticia Preza, a mother of two, who held one of her children as she talked.

The suggestion that the initiative violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment has been the most popular argument up until this point.

Jacobs, who usually specializes in technology and intellectual property cases for law firm Morrison & Foerster, told SF Weekly he got involved in this case because of his longstanding membership with the Jewish Community Relations Council and his interest in religion and First Amendment issues. Yet he said he felt optimistic that solely tackling the case on the basis of state law would be the quickest and most successful strategy. "We wanted to rely on this state statute that is very clear," he said.
Abby Porth, associate director for the JCRC, said she will be glad to see the ban taken off the ballot. "This is crazy. We have more important things to worry about in San Francisco, which is why we are seeking injunctive relief."
The case is scheduled for a July 15 hearing.

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13 comments
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Almightyarbiter
Almightyarbiter

I refer you to Penn& Teller's Bullshit. Episode on Circumcision.

harlanlopez123
harlanlopez123

As male circumcision is a ridiculously argument when compared to female circumcision, it's equally ridiculous to defensively compare it to the importance of vaccination.The choice should be left to the child when he reaches adulthood. Yes, it will be a painful and memorable procedure.      http://bit.ly/lRhiHc

Roland Day
Roland Day

The United States Supreme Court decided a long time ago that parents do not have the right to expose a child to danger in the name of religion. (Prince v. Mass. (1944) It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit proceeds. 

It would be helpful to see the actual complaint and the supporting brief.

Barefoot Intactivist
Barefoot Intactivist

What about the right of the child not to have his g*nitals mutilated? Nobody is asking to stop consenting, 18-year old adults from doing whatever type of mutilation they want to their OWN g*nitals. Forcing this on a child, however, is absolutely violent s*xual assault, and it's absolutely illegal.

~Barefoot Intactivist

skankonia
skankonia

genital mutilation should be banned, no matter the gender of the child.  that it's done in the name of silly religion is no excuse.

Before too long, me might not see any more oversized labia minora!

Elizabethfrantes
Elizabethfrantes

Circumcision is not at all like FGM.  Anyone who says so is not only toxically misogynist, but clearly insane!  Try CHOPPING OFF THE PENIS and of course there is no equivalent to infibulation.  Sheesh.  These crackpots sound like a rapist complaining his victim tried to hurt him . .. . appropriating the horrors of FGM by some smegma fetishers who love to talk about cleaning out male children's foreskins (what, with your tongues?) are creepy!

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

And you went off on this little rant of yours... why, exactly? Care to explain what this comment of yours has to do with the article?

Able Dart
Able Dart

 Actually, all she's doing is pointing out how meretricious the ban proponents are. Male circumcision is not the same as FGM. The actual equivalent would be cutting the glans off. True, the infant boy will be in pain during a circumcision, but for some families that day of discomfort may be worth ensuring that the child is welcome into the family's religious tradition. That is a decision for them to make, not you. There are no lasting defects caused by male circumcision. That is a mass delusion akin to correlating vaccination with autism or some such. There is no net harm in male circumcision and as such you have no business trying to ban it. This is America. We don't ban things based on offense to narrow or lily-livered, or pet peeves.

psandz
psandz

There are many forms of FGM, some of which are less invasive, or equally invasive, compared to male circumcision. For example, in the Islamic culture of Indonesia, the clitoris is normally left intact, with just the inner labia trimmed. Yet ALL forms of female genital cutting are prohibited in the USA, even the mildest ones.So, FGM CAN be compared to male circumcision; some forms of FGM are actually milder. It's time to drop double-standards! The law should protect boys and girls equally from unnecessary genital cutting.

MrEricSir
MrEricSir

Nobody is talking about FGM but you.

Anyway, so I take it you would be okay with a mother injecting botox into her child's forehead?  Because that's also a harmless, cosmetic procedure.  And who are you to tell the mother not to do such a thing?

Martin
Martin

I was wondering when the local medical decision making was going to come into play. Medical procedures are never regulated at the local level.

Reasoning101
Reasoning101

This is not restricting medical decision-making. It has long been a fallacy that routine infant circumcision is a "medical decision"; for that to be so, there would have to be a proper diagnosis of illness or deformity, along with follow-up care. Newborn circumcision is a religious, cultural or cosmetic procedure masquerading as a health intervention. The fact that no developed country that doesn't circumcise sees any need for the operation on newborns should lay that lie to rest.

It's only the US that pumps out ridiculous studies purporting to show that circumcised penises are healthier, more enjoyable and a great improvement over nature. Take the American mania out of the equation (including the studies US researchers do in Africa) and there's really nothing anatomically to commend circumcision. Nothing. The rest of the Western world correctly thinks we're obsessed with rationalizing what we do to babies, if not merely crazy.

The MGM bill as proposed is not a ban, and never has been. All it does is correctly define circumcision as an appropriate surgical intervention, on boys of any age, when there is a proper medical diagnosis by a doctor. It leaves adults free to choose circumcision for themselves for medical or even cosmetic reasons, but protects the rights of the owner of the penis to be free from irreversible non-medical surgeries. In this sense, all it does is bring circumcision into alignment with all other generally accepted medical practices.

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