Judge tosses initiative to ban circumcision from San Francisco ballot

SAN FRANCISCO – A California superior court judge ordered an initiative to ban circumcision removed from San Francisco’s November ballot.

Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi ruled July 28 that circumcision was an area that fell under state law and said California code “speaks directly to the issue of local regulation of medical procedure and leaves no room for localities to regulate in this area.”

The lawsuit protesting the ballot measure was filed June 21 by plaintiffs representing community organizations, doctors, and Jewish and Muslim families in San Francisco, including the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League.

Amicus briefs were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and San Francisco Medical Society.

“The evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure. California Business and Professions Code Section 460 (b) applies to medical services provided by a wide range of health care professionals,” Giorgi said in her ruling.

San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer opposed the initiative within a week of its qualification for the ballot, writing a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle in May that described it as “a misguided initiative” and “an unconscionable violation of the sanctuaries of faith and family.”

Most of the city’s elected officials opposed the ballot initiative.

The San Francisco city attorney raised concerns the measure violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, particularly after an anti-Semitic comic book that vilified Jewish religious practitioners of circumcision surfaced during the campaign, said Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart.

“The strongly anti-Jewish faith material really gave us cause for concern,” Stewart said in an interview with Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.

Lloyd Schofield, main proponent of the ballot measure banning circumcision, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an earlier interview, Schofield said, “Parents don’t have a right to harm their child.” Schofield compared the practice of male circumcision to female circumcision, and said, “This is an unnecessary harmful surgery that is being forced on men when they are most vulnerable and defenseless.”

The ballot measure would have banned circumcision for any male under 18 except in cases of medical necessity. It says that religious belief could not be used as an exception to the law and violators could be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned for up to one year.

Abby Michelson Porth, Jewish Community Resources Council associate director and a leader in the opposition to the measure, said in a July 28 statement that while she was confident the majority of San Franciscans would have voted against the measure, “we believe the right decision was made in the right venue.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.