Calif. Legislature backs bill to prevent circumcision bans

(JTA) — California’s state Legislature approved a bill that would prevent the state’s municipalities from banning male circumcision.

The Assembly approved the bill Tuesday following attempts in two cities to place circumcision bans on the November ballot. Gov. Jerry Brown must sign the measure, which would take effect immediately. Brown has not taken a position on the bill, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Mike Gatto, a Democrat who represents the Los Angeles area, authored the bill after he was contacted by U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who has introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

"I regarded this as an outrageous interference in both religious freedom and parental rights," Sherman said in an e-mail to JTA.

The bill’s passage is the latest development in a campaign that began this spring when anti-circumcision activists, or "intactivists," in San Francisco gathered 12,000 signatures to have a circumcision ban placed on the city’s November ballot.

If passed, the San Francisco initiative would have made the practice of circumcising a minor a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail, and offered no exemption for religious ritual. It would have been the first time that such a measure appeared on a ballot in a U.S. city, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

After the early success, the anti-circumcision campaign stalled in the face of organized opposition from Muslim and Jewish groups. The revelation that the bill’s author, Matthew Hess, had authored a comic book that the ADL described as containing “grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes" spurred the withdrawal of a similar ballot initiative in Santa Monica.

A state Superior Court Judge in California had ruled in July that the anti-circumcision measure in San Francisco must be struck from the ballot because the city lacked the authority to regulate a medical procedure.

Hess told JTA that he believes the issue will now be decided in a higher court, but claimed a partial victory.

"Intactivists are becoming more powerful, so it’s not surprising to me that some lawmakers are trying to squash us," he said, "when before they could simply ignore us."

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