In 2011, San Francisco placed a measure to outlaw infant male circumcision on its November ballot. Members of the Jewish and Muslim faiths practice infant male circumcision as a tenet of their religions. If approved, this ballot measure would have raised serious questions about the scope of religious liberty protected under the Constitution. This Note argues that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment prohibits governments from, at minimum, outlawing religious practices—at least not without satisfying the elements of strict scrutiny. This Note will undertake a critical analysis of the United States Supreme Court’s concept of neutrality as has been applied to religious practice and will advance an argument for the theory of “substantive neutrality.” Given that the San Francisco Ballot Measure fails to satisfy the substantive neutrality principle, and further that a circumcision ban does not serve a compelling state interest, the proposal would not be upheld under the rule advocated for in this Note.
Part II of this Note will provide a brief background of the religious motivations and social constructions of male circumcision and the medical debate over the procedure. Part III discusses the text and legislative motives of the San Francisco Ballot Measure. Subsequently, Part IV of this Note summarizes the Court’s Free Exercise Clause jurisprudence. Part V will analyze how a court considering the San Francisco Ballot Measure would apply these cases to the proposal, and it will show why analysis confined to the present rule is constitutionally deficient. Finally, the Note argues that substantive neutrality is the correct formulation of the neutrality requirement, and that the San Francisco Ballot Measure violates the principle.