By Carolina Madrid
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - An unusual coalition of Jews and Muslims filed suit on Wednesday to block a November voter referendum seeking to ban male circumcision in San Francisco.
The lawsuit says the measure should be removed from the ballot on grounds that under state law California cities cannot prohibit a "healing arts" professionals from conducting a procedure they are licensed to perform.
Some legal experts have said that even if the referendum remained on the ballot and were approved by a majority of the city's voters, such a measure might face a legal challenge as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of religion.
Circumcision is a ritual obligation for infant Jewish boys, and a common rite among Muslims, who account for the largest share of circumcised men worldwide. Some critics of the practice argue that it amounts to genital mutilation.
The legal action comes as Jewish groups, in particular, have expressed alarm at nascent attempts to outlaw circumcision, a movement they say bears traces of anti-Semitism.
The lawsuit was brought in San Francisco Superior Court by the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco and the Anti-Defamation League. The lead plaintiffs also include several prospective Jewish and Muslim parents who intend to have their infant sons circumcised.
Abigail Michelson Porth, associate director of the Committee for Parental Choice & Religious Freedom, called the proposed circumcision ban an affront to religious freedom.
"I think this is un-American, I really do. I think that's why we have such tremendous support," Porth said.
All 11 members of the city's Board of Supervisors have endorsed her group's opposition to the referendum. Porth said early indications are that most San Francisco residents also oppose the measure, though work on a survey commissioned by her committee has just begun.
Lloyd Schofield, the leading advocate of the proposed ban, did not return calls seeking comment.
The measure, which qualified for a place on the November 8 ballot with 12,000 signatures collected by supporters, would make it a misdemeanor to circumcise a boy before he is 18 years of age. The maximum penalty for the individual who performs such a procedure would be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
"The ban does not deny the right to circumcise if a person grows up and determines their religion requires it and that's what they want to do," said Marilyn Milos, founder of the Bay area-based National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers.
Milos, whose group supports the proposed ban but is not involved in the campaign, said circumcision is a "human rights violation" that damages "the normal body of a nonconsenting minor."
The move to outlaw circumcision in San Francisco raised alarm bells for Jewish groups across the nation.
Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League condemned a comic book created by supporters of the movement that it said contained grotesque anti-Semitic imagery. The comic featured a character named "Monster Mohel" as an evil villain.
A mohel is a Jewish individual specially trained to perform the ritual circumcision of infant boys.
(Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Steve Gorman)