San Francisco Goes on Record Against Circumcision Ban
Legal counsel for the city of San Francisco says that there’s no way for the proposed ban on male infant circumcision can answer both state law requirements and constitutional muster, reported IsraelNationalNews.com.
The Associated Press reported last month that a coalition of opponents to the proposed ban had filed suit to take the measure off ballots this coming November. The plaintiffs in the suit said that the measure threatens religious freedoms and parental rights, and also violates state law, since California does not permit local governments to restrict medical procedures.
"It’s a measure that would basically infringe upon my rights as a Muslim to practice here," one plaintiff, Leticia Preza, a 31-year-old mother of two, told the AP. "It would also take away my rights as a parent to choose what’s a good procedure for my child."
But a partial removal of the measure’s language would not be acceptable, either. The city’s lawyers pointed out that to avoid breaking state law, the ballot initiative would have to exempt doctors. But the ballot measure would then be reduced to targeting religious rites alone, rather than a blanket ban on circumcision carried out by doctors as well as by clerics.
Banning the practice by clerics but allowing it for medical personnel would mean violating the United States Constitution, the city’s lawyers said. The First Amendment protects freedom of religion, and circumcision is a long-held rite for both Jews and Muslims.
Anti-circumcision activists say that the procedure is medically unnecessary and amounts to genital mutilation performed on an individual who is too young to consent. The ballot measure would criminalize circumcisions performed in the city on anyone under the age of 18. No religious exemption is offered in the ballot measure’s language.
The city’s lawyers outlined their position in a brief.
"San Franciscans cannot be asked to vote on whether to prohibit religious minorities from engaging in a particular religious practice, when the same practice may be performed under nonreligious auspices," the brief read.
"If the court concludes that the measure is pre-empted as applied to medical professionals, then the remaining application is unconstitutional and the court should remove the measure from the ballot entirely," added the brief.
The city’s attorneys also pointed to comic books produced by the ban’s proponents, which "portray the battle against circumcision as one between good, represented by a blonde, blue-eyed superhero and his fair-skinned female friend, and evil, represented by four dark-haired, dark-skinned menacing Jewish characters with prominent noses, sinister expressions and sadistic tendencies."
A June 2 posting by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders suggested that the circumcision foes responsible for the ballot initiative might be driven by anti-Semitism.
"Mgm" stands for "Male Genital Mutilation," which is what sponsors of the ballot question say circumcision done to infants amounts to. Mgmbill.org is described as a "group working to enact legislation that would protect boys from forced circumcision."
The comic features a cast of characters that includes a bulky super-villain named Dr. Mutilator, as well as the costumed superhero of the title. Another villain is named Monster Mohel. A male infant by the name of Orlando Young is also part of the cast.
Monster Mohel’s online written description is especially provocative to Jews: The blurb reads, "Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-year-old infant boy. And after the glorified brit milah is complete, the delicious metzitzah b’peh provides the icing on the cake."
"Brit milah," also known as "bris," is the ritual word for circumcision. "Metzitzah" refers to cleaning up the blood the results from the procedure; "Metzitzah b’peh" indicates that the blood is removed using oral contact.
The reference to oral contact with the wound is already an issue of contention for Jews who feel besieged over the issue of circumcision. According to a web posting on the subject, "The average Jewish family doesn’t know that most non-Chasidic Orthodox mohels don’t perform metzitzah b’peh. Not only do I not perform metzitzah b’peh, I wear gloves, autoclave my instruments and maintain the highest levels of aseptic technique.
"Even worse, this story has turned many Jewish families away from even having a bris altogether and given incredible ammunition to the anti-circumcision crowd," the posting continues. "The continued public discussion of what is really a non-issue for the majority of observant mohels practicing today is causing incalculable damage to a beautiful mitzvah."
In a June 2 column, Saunders wrote, "The ballot measure bills itself as a ban on ’forced genital cutting’ and ’mutilation.’ Clearly the authors want to confuse voters by equating male circumcision to female genital mutilation, the barbaric, unsanitary butchering of a young girl’s private parts in a procedure that has been known to leave girls severely infected and in pain."
But activists -- or "intactivists," as they sometimes style themselves -- say that the procedure is dangerous and cruel.
"It’s removing healthy, functioning, sexual and protective tissue from a person who cannot consent. You’re mutilating a child," Intact America’s executive director, Georgeanne Chapin, told the Associated Press last year.