Arguing that state law prevents San Francisco voters from criminalizing circumcision, Jewish groups with Muslim supporters filed a lawsuit Wednesday to keep a ban of the practice off the November ballot.
The Committee for Parental Choice & Religious Freedom held a news conference on the steps of City Hall to denounce the efforts of a San Francisco resident who gathered more than 12,000 signatures to put the measure before voters on Nov. 8. The group contends the signatures should be superseded by a state law that says local governments can’t prevent “healing arts professionals” from performing medical procedures.
The ban, which includes no exceptions for religious reasons, would make circumcision of boys under 18 a misdemeanor that carries a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
“This measure singles us out, along with the Muslim community, as illegitimate and unwanted,” said Jeremy Benjamin, one of the lawsuit’s individual plaintiffs, who also include the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League. Jewish and Muslim groups have practiced male circumcision as a matter of ritual for centuries.
Abby Porth, associate director with the Jewish Community Relations Council, said even though voters aren’t likely to support the proposition, the ballot language alone is cause for action. She took particular issue with the measure’s language making it a crime to “cut or mutilate the foreskin, testicles or penis.”
“This is neither mutilation, nor does it have to do with the testicles or penis,” Porth said. “It’s the foreskin only.”
Lloyd Schofield, who spearheaded the signature-gathering effort, said use of the word “mutilate” to describe male circumcision is accurate, and was included deliberately. He said the ban is about a lack of choice on the part of the circumcised.
“Just because you’ve been doing this for centuries doesn’t make it morally, ethically or legally correct,” Schofield said.
Accusations of anti-Semitism against Schofield and other circumcision opponents have stemmed largely from a comic book called “Foreskin Man” linked on Schofield’s website. The comic portrays a Jewish mohel as a sinister villain, but Schofield defended the drawings.
“It’s not vilifying everybody, just the person doing the cutting,” Schofield said. “Other Jewish people in the comic are portrayed as caring and loving.”
Although the lawsuit doesn’t focus on First Amendment rights, speakers at the news conference said they regard the ban as “government intrusion” on religious rights.