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Judge orders San Francisco circumcision ban off ballot

California law allows only the state to regulate medical procedures such as circumcisions, a judge says in ordering the ban removed from San Francisco's November ballot.

July 29, 2011|By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Francisco -- A San Francisco County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that a measure prohibiting male circumcision should be taken off the November ballot.

Judge Loretta M. Giorgi ordered San Francisco's director of elections to strike the measure from the city's ballot because she said that it is "expressly preempted" by the California Business and Professions Code.

Under that statute, only the state is allowed to regulate medical procedures, and "the evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure," the ruling said.

After a brief hearing, Giorgi also found that the proposed ban would violate citizens' right to the free exercise of religion, said Deputy City Atty. Mollie Lee, because it targets Muslims and Jews, whose faiths call for circumcising males.

Proponents of the ban, which would have made it a misdemeanor to conduct a circumcision, argued that the procedure is "male genital mutilation." They collected enough signatures to put the ban up for a vote.

But in June, a group of doctors, community groups and Muslim and Jewish families sued to get the measure off the ballot, arguing that it was anti-Semitic and violated state law.

"I am pleased with the court's ruling to protect the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship and keep law enforcement out of these private decisions," plaintiff Brian McBeth said in a written statement. McBeth is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UC San Francisco.

Lee said the city "appreciates that the court gave the city clear guidance in ordering that the measure be taken off the ballot in its entirety" and recognized the concern over free expression of religious belief.

But Lloyd Schofield, a spokesman for the ban, said he was disappointed by Giorgi's ruling. "This to us is an extraordinarily preemptive and expensive action before the citizens of San Francisco even got to vote." An appeal is possible, he said.

maria.laganga@latimes.com

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