Proposed circumcision ban ordered off San Francisco ballot

SAN FRANCISCO Thu Jul 28, 2011 7:42pm EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California judge ordered a proposal to ban circumcisions of boys in San Francisco removed on Thursday from an upcoming municipal ballot, saying it would infringe on religious freedom.

But Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi, in finalizing a tentative decision reached on Wednesday, said she technically barred the measure on grounds that state laws disallow voter initiatives governing medical practices.

The law "leaves no room for localities to legislate in this area," the judge wrote in her formal opinion.

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. But critics of the practice argue that it amounts to genital mutilation.

The measure, which would have applied only to San Francisco, sought to make it a misdemeanor crime to perform a circumcision on a boy before his 18th birthday, regardless of the parents' religious beliefs. The maximum penalty would be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

According to attorneys present at a hearing on Thursday, Giorgi warned that even if the proposed ban were reduced in scope to exempt medical professionals, it would still run afoul of First Amendment protections for religious expression.

"Judge Giorgi couldn't have been clearer," said Abby Porth, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco. "You can't sever healing arts physicians from rabbis."

A dozen petitioners sued to block the initiative, which was added to the ballot after proponents gathered more than 12,000 signatures in San Francisco. A similar effort in Santa Monica, a coastal city west of Los Angeles, was withdrawn.

San Francisco resident Lloyd Schoefield, a proponent of banning circumcision named in the suit as a real party in interest, had sought to allow the ballot initiative go forward as an exemption to state laws under an escape clause for health or safety considerations.

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Schoefield criticized the judge for not allowing a debate in court over the health or safety of circumcision.

"We are discussing our next course of action but not gearing up for an immediate appeal," Schoefield said. "We don't have the legal power that our opponents do."

The move to outlaw circumcision in San Francisco raised alarm bells for Jewish groups across the nation.

In June, the Anti-Defamation League condemned a comic book created by supporters of the anti-circumcision movement that it said contained grotesque anti-Semitic imagery. The comic featured a character named "Monster Mohel" as an evil villain.

A mohel is a Jewish individual specifically trained to perform the ritual circumcision of infant boys.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)

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Comments (13)
Bubba311 wrote:
Who the hell is Lloyd Schoefield? Whoever he is, he has too much time on his hands.

Jul 28, 2011 9:25pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
pat167 wrote:
Sounds like the show’s over… unless Schofield and his supporters get an appeal going, the public debate over circumcision will drop from national attention a few earlier than the November election. I hope their actions have at least gotten people thinking more critically about the issue.

Jul 28, 2011 9:57pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
uncmarcus wrote:
There is nothing new to think about here..the procedure is safe and it is the parents choice whether or not they want their son to go through the process. No one has any business let alone the right to tell other people how to raise their children. Furthermore, for critics to try and equate circumcision to “genital mutiliation” is a bold faced LIE. Hyperbole like this has no business in the legislative process, nor do people that feel they have the right to legislate away the freedoms guaranteed to the citizens of this nation by our founding documents. Based on the critics philosophy should we NOT cut the umbilical cord either? All children are born with the cord attached so how are we so sure that the child does not feel pain when the cord is cut? What if th babies not breathing, should we smack them on the back to clear their windpipes or is that abuse? The arrogance of the critics here is apalling; when my son isborn he is getting circumsized, period, because IT IS A NORMAL PROCEDURE and something I am glad I didnt have to get at 18 because of some ignorant law. Stupid, just stupid…to anyone out there that feels they have the right to tell other families how to raise their children, grow up and take care of yourself since you clearly have enough problems of your own. This is exactly what happens when people vote conservatives in to create jobs; what do we get instead? Hyper partisan extremists that try to use government to force their extremist social ideology upon everyone else.

Jul 28, 2011 11:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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