US Jews hail decision against San Fran circumcision ban

Jewish organizations claim that California state law prohibits municipal governments from restricting or regulating medical procedures.

July 31, 2011 05:09
2 minute read.
A circumcision ceremony in Bnei Brak

circumcision brit mila 311 R. (photo credit: Gil Cohen Magen / Reuters)


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Jewish groups in America have welcomed Thursday’s decision by a California Superior Court judge to remove a proposal aimed at banning circumcision from a San Francisco city ballot scheduled for November.

In response to the initiative, a number of Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco and the Anti-Defamation League, along with several individual plaintiffs – both Jewish and Muslim – filed a suit in June against the city, claiming that California state law prohibited municipal governments from restricting or regulating medical procedures.

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“This is a critical affirmation of religious freedom and parental rights,” said Nancy Appel, associate regional director for the ADL, in a statement. “The Court has rightly upheld the freedom for Jews and Muslims in San Francisco to choose to circumcise their children in accordance with long-standing religious tradition.”

The proponents of the initiative argue that male circumcision is a painful operation akin to female genital mutilation, and sought to criminalize the procedure with a custodial sentence of up to a year and fine of up to $1,000.

The plaintiffs in the suit said they focused their attention on the state law overriding municipal legislatures in order to prevent the issue being drawn out in a prolonged legal struggle regarding the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment.

“We believed that it was important for San Francisco, Jews and Muslims to focus on important issues, not waste resources and energy in protracting this controversy, so our approach has been to find the most efficient and effective way to put an end to this nonsense,” said Abigail Michelson-Porth, associate director of San Francisco’s JCRC.


The proposed law was deliberately written to apply to all non-medical circumcisions, which would have made it harder for the plaintiffs to argue that the bill violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Therefore, the more technical route was taken, said Steven Freeman, director of legal affairs for the ADL.

Michelson-Porth pointed to a brief filed by the City Attorney’s Office before the Superior Court, which argued that the text of the proposal, along with comic books containing anti-Semitic imagery that were produced in support of it, demonstrated that although not explicitly stated, the measure was aimed at the Jewish practice of circumcision and would violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment regardless of the issue of state versus city law.

The B’nai B’rith also applauded the decision.

“We are relieved to see this measure will not stand on the November ballot,” B’nai B’rith president Allan J. Jacobs said. “This measure to ban one of the most fundamental tenets of Judaism undermines our cherished American value of religious freedom.”

Lloyd Schoefield, one of the central proponents of the ban, told Reuters that the anti-circumcision activists were not gearing up for an immediate appeal. “We don’t have the legal power that our opponents do,” he said.

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