Legal Group Challenges Anti-Circumcision Referendum

A legal group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism announced Wednesday that it has launched a lawsuit to challenge a proposed ban on circumcision of males under the age of 18.

The Anti-Defamation League joined with Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, various doctors and Jewish and Muslim individuals to ask the Department of Elections to remove the circumcision proposal from the November ballot. The coalition argues that the City of San Francisco does not have the power to enact an anti-circumcision proposition if approved by voters.

"Existing California law is clear," said Nancy Appel, ADL associate director in San Francisco. "Only the state can make rules about medical procedures and this initiative violates that law."

Under the California Business and Professions Code, municipalities cannot "prohibit a healing-arts professional licensed within the state ... from engaging in any act or performing any procedure that falls within the professionally recognized scope of practice of that license," ADL highlights in its statement.

Given those guidelines, the ADL asserts that the ballot question launched by advocacy group Male Genital Mutilation Bill (MGMB) is senseless.

"Not only does this initiative waste time, energy and expense, but it also offends the notions of parental rights and freedom of religion. It is unconstitutional and, as we allege in this lawsuit, contrary to California law," said Appel.

Christians have also expressed opposition to the referendum.

Christians, unlike Muslims and Jews, generally do not require circumcision. The Christian faith, however, shares a common spiritual tie with Jews and Muslims in the prophet Abraham. The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 churches, acknowledged that common spiritual heritage in a June statement.

"We join Jews and Muslims in opposing this ban and standing together for religious freedom," said NAE President Leith Anderson.

He continued, "Jews, Muslims, and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Biblical circumcision begins with Abraham. No American government should restrict this historic tradition. Essential religious liberties are at stake."

MGMB, led by San Francisco Director Lloyd Schofield, collected more than 7,700 signatures on a petition to guarantee the anti-circumcision proposal will appear on the ballot for the November 11 election.

"The base of our argument is you're spending incredible amounts of money doing painful and damaging surgery to an unwilling patient," Schofield told the San Francisco Chronicle.

During a circumcision, the excess foreskin surrounding the male genitalia is clipped off. On infants, circumcision is usually performed between the first and eighth day after birth.

Contributors to WebMD affirm the procedure is often painful for both newborns and adults.

The American Academy of Pediatrics informs parents in a 2005 policy statement that the procedure has potential benefits and risks, and is not essential to the child's current well-being.

It also states it is legitimate for the parents to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to medical factors, when making this choice.

If passed, the MGMB's bill will take that choice away from parents, even in the case of religious convictions.

The bill does not provide a religious exemption and punishes violators of the law with fines of up to $1,000 or one year in jail.

The ADL is a member of the Committee for Parental Choice & Religious Freedom, which is leading the opposition to the proposed ban.