Proposed Circumcision Ban Fails To Reach Ballot

July 29, 2011

California Superior Court Judge Loretta Giorgi has removed a proposed ban on male circumcision in San Francisco from the city’s November ballot.  She based her ruling on two grounds: the likely conflict between the proposed law and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion and the certain preemption of the local ordinance by state law, which has exclusive authority to regulate medical procedures.


This ruling is not a surprise.  It certainly is not a surprise to me, as I predicted a few weeks ago that if the law were enacted, it would not survive constitutional challenge. Judge Giorgi decided not to wait until November, and I am glad she did not because a ruling post-enactment would have required a more in-depth of the Free Exercise Clause—probably to no good purpose.  As a humanist, I support freedom of conscience, but I do not want to see free exercise rights broadened any further. 


In removing the proposed ban from the ballot, the judge observed there is a legitimate debate over “the benefits and harms of circumcision.”  I agree, I although I also note that the benefits have often been exaggerated, especially in the 50’s and 60’s, when the medical establishment was pushing the procedure.  With more education about male circumcision, I think fewer secular parents would choose this procedure.  


And that is how those opposed to male circumcision should proceed—through educational outreach.  That’s the one good thing I can say about the campaign to place the ban on the ballot.  As a matter of law, it was ill-advised and doomed to fail, but as a matter of raising public awareness and sparking discussion, it may have been a success. 


#1 Randy on Saturday July 30, 2011 at 5:38am

The judge seems to be wrong on the first amendment.  Banning child circumcision doesn’t violate the free exercise of religion any more than anti-polygamy or divorce laws do.

She’s probably right on this being the wrong level of government to enact the law.

However, this doesn’t need to be a legislative or initiative issue.  It could be handled through the courts.

If circumcision is a religious ritual, it’s clearly a violation of the boy’s religious rights.  A child is obviously unable to consent to join a religion until he’s been exposed to a variety of views, and can choose without fear the beliefs that represent him.  I think no minor is in a position to declare a particular religion, due to legal dependence on their parents.  Yet a permanent and visible religious membership decision is being made without consent.

If this is a medical procedure (as this case seems to say it is) then it is rarely necessary, always permanent, and occasionally dangerous.  Almost all of the supposed benefit to circumcision could be obtained by circumcision as an adult.  It’s a serious violation of the child’s rights to their own body to have pieces of it painfully ripped and removed for no good reason.  At the very least, it’s criminal assault or battery (plus conspiracy). 

I’m not aware if there have been cases where teens or adults have brought lawsuits or charges against their circumcisors, in cases where the circumcision produced the expected physical results.  But we should.  The courts are supposed to protect the most vulnerable.  Very few people can watch a baby being circumcised and say that isn’t the one of the most vulnerable people they’ve ever seen.

#2 SocraticGadfly (Guest) on Sunday July 31, 2011 at 1:52pm

Randy, yes it does. And, it must be a slow weekend. There’s no flood of anti-circs yet.

#3 L. Long (Guest) on Sunday July 31, 2011 at 3:20pm

You must remember that to really get the numbers into a religion you have to get them very young—like at birth.  Just imagine the fall off in numbers if you told a teen that it is time to cut off the end of your penis to join the church.

But I wonder why the women are not really pushing for circumcision to be done more often.  I’ve heard many women complain that the guys just get it in- blow the wad-then are gone.  Since circumcision makes the penis less sensitive it would require more effort to get the job done, so the men have to stay longer.

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