An unlikely coalition of Jews and Muslims on Wednesday filed a lawsuit to block a San Francisco ballot measure that would ban the circumcision of male children, a procedure widely practiced by members of both faiths.
The case filed in San Francisco Superior Court asks the court to remove the voter initiative from the city's Nov. 8 ballot, arguing that California law bars local governments from restricting medical procedures.
The plaintiffs include five Jews, three Muslims, two physicians who regularly perform circumcisions, the Anti-Defamation League and the local chapter of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
"It's a measure that would basically infringe upon my rights as a Muslim to practice here," said plaintiff Leticia Preza, 31, who has a 4-year-old son and baby daughter. "It would also take away my rights as a parent to choose what's a good procedure for my child."
San Francisco is set to be the first U.S. city to hold a public vote on banning male circumcision after city elections officials confirmed last month that the initiative had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The measure would prohibit circumcision on males under the age of 18, making it a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.
Supporters of the ban say male circumcision is a form of genital mutilation that parents should not be able to force on their young child. They say the procedure is unnecessary, extremely painful and even dangerous.
Backers of the so-called San Francisco Male Genital Mutilation bill did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
The ballot measure is running into fierce opposition, especially among Jews and Muslims who consider circumcision a sacred religious rite. They say the ban would violate their constitutional rights and run counter to San Francisco's tradition of cultural and religious tolerance.
"As Jews, we take the threat of banning circumcision personally," said plaintiff Jeremy Benjamin. "This measure singles us out, along with the Muslim community, as illegitimate and unwanted in our own city."
International health organizations have promoted male circumcision to help reduce the spread of the AIDS virus, but there hasn't been the same kind of push in the U.S., in part because nearly 80 percent of American men are already circumcised, compared with the worldwide average of 30 percent.