|The Proposed San Francisco Circumcision Ban
Frequently Asked Questions
What does the November 2011 ballot proposal set out to do?
The initiative that qualified for the November 2011 ballot in San Francisco would make it a misdemeanor criminal act to “circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person who is not at least 18 years old.” The proposed ban affects only the City and County of San Francisco. The proponents successfully submitted the minimum required 7,168 signatures on a petition to qualify it for the ballot.
Is there a religious exception to the proposed ban on circumcision?
There is no religious exception to the proposed ban. The proposed measure includes an exception for cases of “clear and immediate medical need, if there is no less-destructive alternative.” But the measure states that “there is no exception for persons who believe that circumcision is required as a matter of custom or ritual.”
If enacted, what might be the consequences for those who perform circumcision?
Any individual, including a physician or mohel (a specialist in performing a ritual Jewish circumcision), who performs the procedure could be sentenced to serve up to a year in county jail, and/or be punished with a fine of up to $1,000.
Why is the Anti-Defamation League opposed to the ban?
We believe the proposed ban would place an intolerable burden on the free exercise of religion – in this case, a core practice of Judaism. In addition, Muslims also practice male circumcision as part of their religious faith, and so this ban would impede their religious freedom rights as well. We agree with The Rev. Stephen Privett, S.J., President of the University of San Francisco, when he says that this is a “totally unnecessary and thinly disguised expression of intolerance and discrimination against centuries-old religious traditions.”
The ballot measure is a direct assault on the rights of Jewish and Muslim parents to circumcise their children according to the dictates of their faiths. Our courts have ruled time and again that parents, not the state, have the right to guide the religious upbringing of their children. This initiative would also deprive all parents of the right to make decisions regarding health and hygiene their male children. Such decisions have always been recognized as a basic parental right and responsibility.
Is the ballot measure anti-Semitic?
While we do not believe that those who proposed the ballot measure did so to target Jews specifically, one element of the campaign to ban circumcision in San Francisco has raised concerns about its ability to encourage anti-Semitic attitudes.
San Diego-based anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess, who drafted the proposed ballot initiative, is also the author of series of anti-circumcision comic books, Foreskin Man, two of which are replete with grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes. The main villains in the second issue, “Monster Mohel” and his henchmen, are rapacious, bloodthirsty and bent on harming children. Some of the imagery calls to mind pernicious anti-Semitic canards such as the blood libel, the accusation that Jews ritually murder Christian children. Another comic in the series also calls up more subtle anti-Jewish stereotypes, such as when a character complains that the “pro-circumcision lobby” has “all of the well-connected doctors and lawyers” on its side.
Has anyone else condemned the “Monster Mohel” comic book?
There has been widespread condemnation of the comic book series, including from the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. We would have hoped those leading the anti-circumcision effort in San Francisco would not have stooped to employing rank bigotry to advance their cause. Not only have they done so, however, but they have since refused to distance themselves from the anti-Semitic imagery in the comic book.
Some proponents of the ballot initiative have likened male circumcision to the practice of female genital mutilation. Is this accurate?
Absolutely not. The comparison is factually inaccurate and deeply offensive to all Jews, Muslims and other parents who choose to circumcise their male children.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. FGM is widely condemned and criminalized as a grotesque human rights violation. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. FGM can involve anything from removal of the clitoris to the full excision of the external genitalia. The practice has no health benefits, its purpose is to deprive women of sexual pleasure, and it invariably causes painful health consequences, such as severe bleeding, urinary retention, genital scarring and discomfort, and complications in childbirth possibly leading to the death of the child.
Male circumcision, by contrast, is universally accepted under international law. It also has documented health benefits, including lowered risk of heterosexual HIV/AIDS transmission, and lowered rates of penile cancer and urinary tract infections. Especially when done soon after birth, it is a relatively simple procedure causing minimal discomfort and complications only in rare and unusual cases.
Joel Paul, the Associate Dean of the University of California, Hastings College of the Law has said that, “From a constitutional perspective, male circumcision is not comparable to female genital mutilation. Male circumcision is both medically safe and promotes public health. By contrast, female genital mutilation puts women at high risk for disease, disability and death.”
How is ADL fighting the anti-circumcision ballot initiative?
ADL joined with San Francisco’s Jewish Community Relations Council, and local physicians, mohels, and Jewish and Muslim individual parents as plaintiffs in a state lawsuit to remove this initiative from the November ballot. It is highly significant that ADL is a plaintiff in this action. It is one of the very few times in the League’s 98-year history we have taken this step. Our participation as a plaintiff underscores just how important this issue is for us.
ADL is a founding member of the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom, the coalition waging the opposition political campaign against the proposed circumcision ban. An aggressive opposition to defeat the measure by a wide margin is unfortunately necessary. Despite our strong legal case, it is simply impossible to predict whether our legal challenge will succeed. The coalition has conducted extensive polling to help determine our opposition strategy. As the run-up to the election approaches, we, along with our coalition partners, will engage in the full range of community activism to ensure that this initiative fails resoundingly.
What is the basis for the legal challenge?
The suit argues the ballot initiative is pre-empted by existing California law that regulates “healing arts professionals.” The law states that municipalities cannot “prohibit a healing arts professional licensed with the state…from engaging in any act or performing any procedure that falls within the professionally recognized scope of practice of that licensee.” Therefore, San Francisco voters simply lack the authority to adopt a ban on the practice of male circumcision.
Is the anti-circumcision campaign isolated to San Francisco?
There is a nascent anti-circumcision movement nationwide, with at least one organized nationwide group and several regional groups. As anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess himself has said, success in San Francisco would bolster these efforts, making the San Francisco effort a test case for the rest of the country.
How Can I Support the Coalition’s Efforts to Defeat the Ballot Initiative?
You can help support the opposition campaign by going to its Web site – www.stopcircban.com – and making a financial contribution or to learn more about what you can do. Unfortunately, the campaign necessitates hiring political consultants, accounts, and legal counsel, which will be unavoidably costly. Any financial assistance you can provide will be greatly appreciated. In addition, you can support our efforts by educating your friends about this issue and encouraging them to support the campaign as well.