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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Circumcision Ban Challenged: Religious Leaders File Lawsuit Today

Posted By on Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 1:25 PM

click to enlarge No, this isn't a bris ceremony - TAYLOR FRIEDMAN
  • Taylor Friedman
  • No, this isn't a bris ceremony

Update 1:25 p.m.: Jewish and Muslim plaintiffs file lawsuit challenging San Francisco's circumcision ban. Read more after the jump.

We knew this was coming -- it was just a matter of time. The Jewish community has united with other religious groups to legally challenge San Francisco's ballot measure criminalizing circumcision for males under the age of 18.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit today asking the California Superior Court to remove the proposition from the November ballot. The plaintiffs and their attorneys explained today how state law clearly prohibits local governments from restricting medical procedures.

And circumcision, they say, is a medical procedure. Not only does it help reduce diseases such as HIV, it increases sexual pleasure. Health benefits aside, religious organizations have argued that the measure is not only offensive but unconstitutional.

The lawsuit specifically targets San Francisco's Elections Chief, John Arntz, who is solely responsible for certifying all measures that make it to the ballot.

Lawyers and Jewish leaders have said over and over again that banning circumcision, which has been a religious practice in the Jewish community for more than 3,000 years, would violate their freedom of religion.

Religious groups say the proposed ban on circumcision should be "cut" from the ballot - TAYLOR FRIEDMAN
  • Taylor Friedman
  • Religious groups say the proposed ban on circumcision should be "cut" from the ballot
Attorney Michael Jacobs argued today that while he believes that voters would strike down the initiative come November, he doesn't want it to get

that far. Putting an "unwise and unconstitutional" measure on the ballot is a waste of city

money, he said, not to mention a source of great distress for the Jewish

and Muslim communities.

"There are anti-Semitic overtones to the initiative ... that adds to the

perception of threat by the Jewish community," Jacobs said.

Holding hands on the podium, Jewish couple and plaintiffs

Jeremy and Jennifer Benjamin said that if they were to have a son, they want the option of circumcising him. The ballot measure has made them feel "illegitimate and unwanted in our own city," they said.

Brian McBeth, an assistant clinical professor of emergency medicine at

the UCSF, and a mohel  -- a person

certified to perform circumcisions -- said if such a ban were to become law, he could be

fined or possibly jailed for performing one of the most common surgical


"I believe it would take my rights away as a Muslim," said Leticia Preza, a mother of two, who held one of her children as she talked.

The suggestion that the initiative violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment has been the most popular argument up until this point.

Jacobs, who usually specializes in technology and intellectual property cases for law firm Morrison & Foerster, told SF Weekly he got involved in this case because of his longstanding membership with the Jewish Community Relations Council and his interest in religion and First Amendment issues. Yet he said he felt optimistic that solely tackling the case on the basis of state law would be the quickest and most successful strategy. "We wanted to rely on this state statute that is very clear," he said.
Abby Porth, associate director for the JCRC, said she will be glad to see the ban taken off the ballot. "This is crazy. We have more important things to worry about in San Francisco, which is why we are seeking injunctive relief."
The case is scheduled for a July 15 hearing.

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