The San Francisco City Attorney’s office has taken sides on the November ballot measure that would ban circumcision for males under 18.
It’s against it.
In a statement released June 30, the City Attorney’s office declared the ban would be “clearly unconstitutional” and aligned itself with a legal effort led by the Jewish Community Relations Council to have the measure removed from the ballot.
On June 22, the JCRC and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to have the Superior Court throw out the initiative on the grounds that state law forbids municipalities from banning legal medical procedures via elections.
If the court decides that, because of state law, medical professionals must be excluded from the proposed ban’s provisions, then the measure as written would be unconstitutional, the Attorney’s Office claims.
Attorneys for the JCRC have said that they expect a court ruling sometime later this month. The lawsuit names John Arntz, the San Francisco director of elections, and Lloyd Schofield, who is spearheading the ballot measure.
The City Attorney’s office rarely weighs in on pre-election challenges, “except in rare circumstances where a proposed measure is patently unconstitutional on its face or in its application,” a press release noted.
Among the office’s chief concerns, according to the release, is “the likelihood that the law would be narrowly applied to religious practices, and against the backdrop of political advocacy that expressly demonizes the Jewish faith.”
In the release, Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart said, “While the City is not reaching a legal conclusion on the [JCRC] argument about state pre-emption, it is abundantly clear that the measure will be unconstitutional if narrowly applied to religious practices.
“San Franciscans,” she explained, “cannot be asked to vote on whether to prohibit religious minorities from engaging in a particular religious practice” that also is performed under non-religious auspices.
Stewart also pointed to “disturbing campaign materials that evoke the ugliest kind of anti-Semitic propaganda” as a reason why the city has “an obligation” to support getting the measure off the ballot.
Those materials include the Foreskin Man comic books, written by San Diego–based anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess, who also wrote the language for the San Francisco ballot measure. One of his comic books depicts Jewish mohels as sinister, sadistic villains preying on baby boys.
Last week, Hess published online the latest installment of the series, this one featuring the character Vulva Girl, who travels to Africa to stop the practice of female circumcision. The comic seeks to equate female circumcision, which removes the vulva and clitoris of girls, with male circumcision.
Since the initiative qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot, major Jewish institutions have expressed outrage over the proposed ban.
The most recent is the Union for Reform Judaism, the national arm of Reform congregations. At a board of trustees meeting, the URJ board adopted a resolution condemning all anti-circumcision measures, such as the one in San Francisco.
“The circumcision ban in San Francisco threatens to restrict the right to exercise a ritual that has been part of Jewish and Muslim culture for thousands of years,” board chair Peter Weidhorn said in a release. “The URJ Board of Trustees felt it was critical to take a stand on this issue, which is so central to our Jewish heritage.”
Congress has taken notice, as well. A House bill, which would prevent cities and states from banning circumcision, has picked up several co-sponsors, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, and Jewish Reps. Henry Waxman, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, all of California. Sherman wrote the bill.