SAN FRANCISCO — Jewish groups are angry over an attempt to outlaw male circumcision in the western US city of San Francisco by putting the issue to a popular vote.

Self described "intactivist" Lloyd Schofield has been collecting signatures for a voter initiative that would criminalize infant circumcision in this Californian city.

After two months of collecting names, he claims to be more than half way toward getting the 7,168 signatures he needs by late April to put the matter on the November ballot.

Schofield and a growing community of anti-circumcision activists say that infants should not be forced to participate in what is essentially culturally accepted genital mutilation.

They claim that the procedure can cause health risks and diminished sexual function.

"This is a human rights issue," he said. "What you're doing is you're taking an infant and removing the most sensitive part of their body."

Jewish organizations have pledged to fight the measure should it be placed on the ballot. Anti-Defamation League director Daniel Sandman called Schofield's effort discriminatory and misguided.

"This is hurtful and offensive to people in the community who consider this a coveted ritual," he said.

Abby Porth of the Jewish Community Relations Council charged Schofield with wasting city resources for an inappropriate political stunt that was unlikely to become law.

"This is one of the most fundamental practices to our tradition of over 3,000 years," she said. "It's symbolic of our covenant with God."

Both pro- and anti-circumcision advocates make health claims, but the medical research does not firmly support either position.

The American Academy of Pediatrics holds that there are both benefits and risks to infant circumcision, and recommends that parents make the choice for themselves.

Several other health bodies are reviewing the evidence on circumcision with an eye to new policy recommendations. More than half of US male infants are circumcised, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

If the ban is approved, those caught cutting the foreskins of infants and other minors would face up to a year of jail time and up to $1,000 in fines.

The ban would certainly face legal challenges, and could be found in violation of the First Amendment right to Freedom of Religion.

Schofeld said that the issue is not one of cultural practice, but of individual freedom.

"This is a painful and irreversible surgery," Schofield said. "It's a man's body. It's his right to choose and we're trying to preserve that choice."

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