State bill aims to overrule San Francisco’s circumcision ban 

A California state assembly bill aimed at San Francisco’s circumcision ban on the November ballot seeks to make it clear that no local law can restrict the practice.

San Francisco resident Lloyd Schofield gathered more than 12,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot, which would make circumcision of a minor in The City a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine and up to a year behind bars.

A lawsuit filed by the Jewish Community Relations Council and Muslim individuals against Schofield and San Francisco’s Department of Elections says current state law already prevents local jurisdictions from restricting the practices of “healing arts professionals,” which they say includes Jewish mohels.

But the new state bill sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, would directly restrict local bans on male circumcision and make declarations on the health benefits of the practice, which carries religious importance with the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

“It’s an affirmation of what parents and doctors can do,” said Ma, who will hold a press conference on the matter with Gatto Thursday in the Sunset district.

Ma said the bill’s urgency clause is hoped to quickly get it through the legislative process and to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown in advance of the November election. While ballots are generally printed around Oct. 1, Brown would have until Oct. 9 at the latest to sign or veto the bill.

If the ban remains on the printed ballot, Ma said the measure’s potential passage would be made moot by the new legislation. She also said the ban wouldn’t be enforceable in any case.

“There are a lot of laws on the books we’ve not been able to enforce because we don’t have the resources,” Ma said. “Making circumcision a crime doesn’t seem like it should be a concern of police.”

U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, introduced a circumcision bill in June seeking a similar law on the federal level.

The lawsuit is set for a hearing on July 28 in San Francisco Superior Court. While the City Attorney’s Office is technically defending Department of Elections Director John Arntz – who is named as a defendant along with Schofield – it has released statements questioning the constitutionality of a measure that could be narrowly designed to target religious groups. Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart said the campaign of the ban’s supporters include anti-Semitic comic books depicting mohels as sinister villains.

“While The City is not reaching a legal conclusion on the plaintiffs' argument about state pre-emption, it is abundantly clear that the measure will be unconstitutional if narrowly applied to religious practices,” said Stewart, who is standing in for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, a mayoral candidate who is staying out of the matter because it applies to the November election.

Schofield maintains that he is pushing the ban regardless of which faith groups practice it and he equates male circumcision with the brutality of widely denounced female circumcision practices.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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