The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office made a rare move today by filing a brief on a measure for the November ballot, a proposal to criminalize male circumcision.
The city attorney’s office filed a brief in response to a lawsuit filed last week by opponents of the proposed ban, who are seeking to have the measure removed from the ballot.
The organizer of the ban campaign, Lloyd Schofield, has said he believes male circumcision is wrong and likened it to female circumcision practices that are already banned in the U.S.
The proposal would punish people who circumcise a minor with a fine of up to $1,000 or up to a year in jail.
But opponents, who include the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League, say San Francisco would have no power to enact the ordinance because only the state can make rules about medical procedures.
The opponents also argue that the decision to circumcise boys for religious reasons is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
A brief filed by the city attorney’s office today said it is taking “the unusual step” of filing a brief on a proposed ballot measure because of the possibility that a court preempts the measure from applying to medical professionals.
If that happens, the proposal would then be unconstitutional if only narrowly applied to religious practices, according to the city attorney’s office.
“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 non-religious auspices,” Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart wrote in the brief.
The city attorney’s office “rarely takes a position on the merits in pre-election litigation concerning the legality of proposed ballot measures” unless the measure would be “clearly invalid,” Stewart wrote. “This is such a case.”
She also pointed out a controversial campaign comic book released by proponents of the ban that “are in the tradition of images used in classic anti-Jewish propaganda.”
The comic, “Foreskin Man,” depicts an evil Monster Mohel character who is vilified for his belief in circumcision. Mohelim are Jewish religious officiants–either a practicing physician or trained layperson–who perform circumcisions.
“Especially in light of disturbing campaign materials that evoke the ugliest kind of anti-Semitic propaganda, the city has an obligation to petition the court to remove the measure from the ballot in its entirety if it is preempted as applied to medical professionals,” Stewart wrote.
Stewart is handling the city’s response to the litigation since City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who is running for mayor of San Francisco, has screened himself off from participation in matters involving elections or campaign conduct to avoid the appearance of a political conflict of interest.
The opponents of the ban are asking for a court hearing on the case to be held relatively soon, by July 15, since the city’s Department of Elections has to begin preparations for putting measures on the ballot in August.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News