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.