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