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Foes sue to get San Francisco circumcision bid taken off ballot

Plaintiffs say state law bars local governments from restricting medical procedures. They say the measure threatens the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims, and curbs parental and medical rights.

June 23, 2011|By Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Francisco -- Opponents of a measure that would make it a misdemeanor to circumcise male children in San Francisco filed a lawsuit Wednesday to get the initiative stricken from the November ballot.

The plaintiffs called the measure anti-Semitic, a threat to the religious freedom of Jews and Muslims, and an infringement on parental and medical rights. But during a news conference on the steps of City Hall, attorney Michael Jacobs said the group is suing on the grounds that state law prohibits local governments from restricting medical procedures.

That's the job of the state Legislature, said Jacobs, flanked by two Muslim women in head scarves and a doctor in a white coat. He said the California Business and Professions Code contains a "clear" prohibition on "exactly these kinds of ballot measures.... This is not about local control."

Male circumcision, Jacobs said, is safe, sanctioned and the most widely performed medical procedure in the country. The ballot measure is a "distraction" to San Franciscans, parents, Jews, Muslims and doctors.

"To parents and physicians, the law protects you against this proposed initiative, which we feel is so misguided," Jacobs said.

The Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council are among the plaintiffs in the case, along with local doctors and families. According to a statement by the Committee for Parental Choice & Religious Freedom, which is leading the fight against the measure, the entire San Francisco Board of Supervisors opposes the circumcision ban.

The measure, which will be on the November ballot, would prohibit what it calls the "genital cutting of male minors." Anyone who performed a circumcision would face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in jail.

The SF MGM Bill website says that the measure is necessary to "protect ALL infants and children in San Francisco from the pain and harm caused by forced genital cutting. Damage ranges from excruciating pain, nerve destruction, loss of normal, natural and functional tissue, infection, disfigurement and sometimes death."

Lloyd Schofield, spokesman for the San Francisco measure, said his coalition was aware of the law and believed that the challenge to the ban would not stand. "There are exemptions to it," he said. "If there weren't, you could Botox your child, you could tattoo your child, you could circumcise your daughter. We have a legal team to defend the ban. We will defend it vigorously."

He said his group had gathered 7,743 valid signatures to get the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.

But Jeremy Benjamin, a plaintiff in the case, called the measure anti-Semitic and said it singles his Jewish family out "as illegal and unwanted in our own city."

The Benjamins' son was circumcised "as Jews have done for thousands of years," he said, with his wife, Jenny, at his side. "This is our city, and we're standing up for ourselves and our family's freedom to live the life that we choose in this city."

Dandling an infant on her hip, plaintiff Letizia Preza told reporters that, while she feels "a sense of ease raising my children here in San Francisco," the measure "would take away my rights as a Muslim to circumcise my male children" and "takes away my rights as a mother."

maria.laganga@latimes.com

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