Although a year may go by before the issue is decided upon, news of a possible ballot measure that would ban circumcisions for anyone under the age of 18 has spread rather quickly throughout the City of Santa Monica. Backed by a group called MGMbill.org, documents were recently filed with the City clerk’s office that would bring the issue to the Santa Monica City Council and, quite possibly, the voters.
Mayor Richard Bloom was quick to distance the city council from the potential agenda item and prospective ballot measure, which needs to gather 6,200 signatures, or about 10 percent of registered voters in Santa Monica, over 180 days to have the issue appear on the ballot.
“I’m 100 percent opposed to it and am embarrassed it is happening in Santa Monica. A lot of people believe the council is behind it and that is not true,” Bloom said, adding he believes the San Diego-based group behind the possible ballot measure introduced the issue here in Santa Monica because it is a high-profile city. “I intend to take a public stand against it. The message (I intend to send is) that Santa Monica stands for personal choice and religious freedoms.”
Interestingly enough, those affiliated with MGMbill.org (MGM stands for Male Genital Mutilation) also believe they are defending a personal choice. The president of the group, Matthew Hess, stated circumcisions are not necessary and prevent men from having personal control over their bodies.
“Boys are born with a foreskin for a reason,” Hess stated in a release. “The foreskin functions like an eyelid, providing protection and keeping the penis moist and sensitive. It also contains thousands of nerve endings and acts as a natural lubricant during sexual activity. Boys deserve to be legally protected from forced circumcision the same way that girls are protected.”
San Diego resident Kenneth Bradshaw wrote in a letter to MGMbill.org that he thought circumcision was an outdated practice. “It is barbaric and not needed.” “As a European male I have not been circumcised and if I had a male child would never consider ever putting a child through that. I know a lot of men who are ashamed that they were circumcised.”
Shame may or may not factor into the equation, but a healthy debate is sure to ensue about whether the proposed ban violates certain religious freedoms.
Circumcision is a common practice among Jews and Muslims, though, for about 100 years now, the procedure has been the most common surgery performed in the United States, irrespective of religion or faith.
“Since the early years of the twentieth century, neonatal circumcision has been the most frequently performed surgery in the United States,” David Gollaher wrote in a report published in the Journal of Social History. “For generations, in fact, the operation became so commonplace that physicians and parents scarcely considered it surgery at all. By all indications, the procedure was done with little thought, as though it were simply a routine of childbirth like cutting an infant’s umbilical cord.”
Yet, a study published by the Center for Disease Control indicates a significant drop in performed circumcisions across the United States. According to the CDC, which reportedly researched more than of 6.5 million boys, about 33 percent had an infant circumcision in 2009, a significant drop from the 56 percent mark the center reported in 2006.
Similarly, the MGMbill.org group cited a statement issued by the Royal Dutch Medical Association that said male circumcision “conflicts with the child’s right to autonomy and physical integrity.” Even more, the association stated there are “good reasons for a legal prohibition of nontherapeutic circumcision of male minors, as exists for female genital mutilation.”
Interestingly enough, the ultimate legal question will rest on whether equal protection laws will trump arguments that a ban on circumcision is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Specifically, opponents of the ban on circumcision may claim that by institutionalizing the prohibition, it infringes upon the exercise of religion.
Another constitutional protection that may be raised is a parent’s First Amendment right to make decisions on behalf of his or her child. Of course, female genital mutilation has been banned in the United States for about 15 years now, which provides the MGMbill.org group a legal basis, via the Fourteenth Amendment’s provision of equal protection under the laws, to impose a similar ban on male genital mutilation.
“Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, the law must apply equally to everyone,” Hess said. “We feel this argument that it violates freedom of religion doesn’t hold up, and the courts have found that in similar cases as far back as the 1940s.The freedom of religion is not absolute.”
Hess cited a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court decision in “Prince v. Massachusetts,” where a divided court decided in a five-to-four vote that “neither the rights of religion nor the rights of parenthood are beyond limitation” and “parents may be free to become martyrs themselves(,) but it does not follow they are free … to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion.”
It may take a while for these legal issues to come to a tee, if at all, as the potential ballot measure still has a long way to go before it has any measurable impact, for better or for worst, in hospitals within Santa Monica’s borders.
Should the proponents of the proposed measure succeed in garnering enough signatures for it to be placed on the ballot, it may not be in front of voters until as late as November 2012. Before then, the council will have the matter come before it, where it may be approved outright or stricken down by majority vote. The proposed ban, which has yet to be titled, calls for jail time and/or an imposition of $1,000 fine upon would-be violators.
A similarly proposed ban has already made it onto the November 2011 ballot in San Francisco. In Santa Monica, Jena Troutman, who is affiliated with the San Diego-based MGMbill.org, was the name officially listed on papers filed with the City Clerk; she was unavailable for comment.