SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The California Superior Court ruled today that the initiative to ban circumcision for minors must be removed from San Francisco’s November ballot.
“The evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure,” wrote Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi. “The statute [California Code §460(b)] speaks directly to the issue of local regulation of medical procedures and leaves no room for localities to regulate in this area.”
“Because the proposed ballot initiative attempts to regulate a medical procedure,” she continued, “the proposed ordinance is expressly preempted. Moreover, it serves no legitimate purpose to allow a measure whose invalidity can be determined as a matter of law to remain on the ballot after such a ruling has been made.”
The initiative sought to make the practice of circumcision a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. It offered no exemption for religious ritual. The initiative earned a place on San Francisco’s November ballot after anti-circumcision activists launched a petition campaign that garnered 12,000 signatures – a number well above those required.
In response, Jewish groups, together with Muslims and doctors, filed a lawsuit.The plaintiffs representing community organizations, doctors and Jewish and Muslim families in San Francisco, included the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Anti-Defamation League, Leo Fuchs, Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe and Yael Frenkel-Jaffe, Jeremy and Jennifer Benjamin, Dr. Eric Tabas, Dr. Brian McBeth, Sheila Bari, Leticia Preza, and Kashif Abdullah. They were supported in their efforts with Amicus briefs by the American Civil Liberties Union and San Francisco’s Medical Society. In addition, the San Francisco City Attorney’s office took the rare step of expressing their concerns about the constitutional legality of the issue in a separate brief.
Jewish groups and others were quick to praise the ruling.
“There is no place on the ballot for a measure that contradicts California law and would put doctors in jail for performing a procedure with known health benefits and a religious purpose,” Abby Michelson Porth, associate director of San Francisco’s Jewish Community Relations Council, told j., the community’s local Jewish newspaper, “The court ruling is an affirmation of the values of parental choice and religious freedom.”
Plaintiff Brian McBeth, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, expressed relief, saying, “I am pleased with the Court’s ruling to protect the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship and keep law enforcement out of these private decisions.”
But Matthew Hess, architect of the initiative, vowed to appeal.
“The measure didn’t target one specific religion – it targeted all forced circumcisions of male minors,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). “We feel that we have a strong case for an appeal.”
Hess is the creative force behind the comic-book “Foreskin Man,” a “superhero” who battles the demonic “Monster Mohel” and his “religious veil,” warning that he is “coming soon to a hospital and bris near you.” (See “The New Blood Libel: Antisemitic ‘Superhero’ Conscripted Into War Against Circumcision,” Ledger, June 17, 2011). Outrage over the comic book anti-circumcision activists to withdraw a similar measure is headed for the ballot in Santa Monica.
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