San Francisco may vote on banning male circumcision

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Apr 27, 2011 1:20pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A group opposed to male circumcision said on Tuesday they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify a proposal to ban the practice in San Francisco as a ballot measure for November elections.

But legal experts said that even if it were approved by a majority of the city's voters, such a measure would almost certainly face a legal challenge as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of religion.

Circumcision is a ritual obligation for infant Jewish boys, and is also a common rite among Muslims, who account for the largest share of circumcised men worldwide.

The leading proponent of a ban, Lloyd Schofield, 59, acknowledged circumcision is widely socially accepted but he said it should still be outlawed.

"It's excruciatingly painful and permanently damaging surgery that's forced on men when they're at their weakest and most vulnerable," he told Reuters.

His group submitted about 12,000 signatures supporting his proposed ban, said Rachel Gosiengfiao, campaign services manager for the city's Department of Elections. The agency has 30 days to verify the petitions. He needs 7,200 valid signatures to qualify.

The measure, which would only apply in San Francisco, would make it a misdemeanor crime to circumcise a boy before he is 18 years of age, regardless of the parents' religious beliefs. The maximum penalty would be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Schofield, who would not discuss his current occupation but previously worked for hotels in the San Francisco Bay area, has found allies for his cause in the anti-circumcision groups Intact America and the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, according to his group's website.

However, some experts said it was doubtful such a measure would withstand legal scrutiny if challenged.

"The practice of Judaism requires a boy to be circumcised. I suspect the California courts would ultimately require the city to demonstrate the practice is harmful," said Jennifer Rothman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"I don't think there's sufficient medical evidence that it is, which would place the law's constitutionality in question."

But Josh Davis, professor and associate dean for faculty scholarship at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said the U.S. Supreme Court has previously indicated in rulings that "religions don't get a free pass."

"So if circumcision is the harm that's being targeted -- because circumcision is perceived as causing harm, and not because it is a religious practice -- it might well be a constitutionally valid law," he said.

Schofield's proposal would make exceptions for boys who need a circumcision for health reasons.

Nevertheless, Davis and Rothman both said voters would be likely to reject the measure at the polls.

"I think that people are very likely to react to it as interfering with religious practices," Davis said.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Steve Gorman and Jerry Norton)

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Comments (33)
“There is no convincing evidence that circumcision is useful or necessary in terms of prevention or hygiene. Partly in the light of the complications which can arise during or after circumcision, circumcision is not justifiable except on medical/therapeutic grounds. Insofar as there are medical benefits, such as a possibly reduced risk of HIV infection, it is reasonable to put off circumcision until the age at which such a risk is relevant and the boy himself can decide about the intervention, or can opt for any available alternatives.

“Contrary to what is often thought, circumcision entails the risk of medical and psychological complications. The most common complications are bleeding, infections, meatus stenosis (narrowing of the urethra) and panic attacks. Partial or complete penis amputations as a result of complications following circumcisions have also been reported, as have psychological problems as a result of the circumcision.

“Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors is contrary to the rule that minors may only be exposed to medical treatments if illness or abnormalities are present, or if it can be convincingly demonstrated that the medical intervention is in the interest of the child, as in the case of vaccinations.

“Non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors conflicts with the child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity.”

That is the official position of the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG). But then, Holland never suffered from anti-masturbation hysteria, so circumcision never became customary there.

Apr 26, 2011 12:59am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Interesting read from Glick’s “Marked in Your Flesh”: “that the Lord’s covenant and his two definitive promises (prodigious reproduction success and a lavish land grant (all of Canaanite land) appears first in Genesis 15, an earlier J text but with one crucial difference, there is no mention of circumcision.” “To seal this covenant the only requirement is that Abram offer several sacrificial animals- a heifer, goat, ram, dove, and one other bird. Here we find no mention of circumcision, no change of name, no mention of Isaac or Ishmael.” “Like a number of their neighbors, the ancient Israelites had practiced circumcision, but not as a mandatory rite and probable seldom on infants; nor did they associate it with the idea of covenant.”

It was the Judean Priests who wrote Genesis 17 (P text) 13 centuries after Abraham’s putative lifetime that called for male circumcision of infants. A initiation rite not so much for the infant but of the father who must circumcise his son himself for he is cognizant of the event whereas the infant is not. These type of circ.s were the cutting off the acroposthion (the part that hangs past the glans). No damage of tearing the foreskin from the glans (thus results scarring from the cut up to the tip of the glans) and no amputating the part covering the glans. The radical circ., also medically known as penile reduction, as we do happens centuries later. The Torah says not to mark the body, the original Covenant jives with the earliest Judea.

Apr 27, 2011 1:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
JamVee wrote:
I thought this story was about the nut cases in SF that would enact such a law, not about circumcision itself, but you couldn’t prove it by the above comments?

In any case, all I can see is a “government” agency, again sticking their noses into matters best left up to parents and the churches involved.

Apr 27, 2011 10:55am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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