Cases & Deals

Jewish groups win appellate victory in constitutional challenge to circumcision regulation

Client(s) Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA & Canada; Agudath Israel of America; International Bris Association; and Rabbis Samuel Blum, Aharon Leiman, and Shloime Eichenstein

A coalition of Orthodox Jewish groups represented by Jones Day obtained an important appellate victory on August 15, 2014, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed that a New York City ordinance targeting a particular form of ritual circumcision must be subjected to strict scrutiny -- the highest level of constitutional protection -- under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. The Second Circuit's unanimous published opinion vacated the district court's decision, which had applied only the lax "rational basis" standard to the ordinance.

The Second Circuit's decision is not only a major victory for the Jewish community affected by this particular regulation, but also an important precedent demarcating the line between neutral and generally applicable burdens on religion (which are permissible under the Supreme Court's Free Exercise jurisprudence) versus those that target a particular religious practice for special burdens (and therefore warrant much more rigorous judicial review). By rejecting the district court's narrow construction of the latter category, the Second Circuit's decision provides for more expansive and meaningful protection of religious liberty across the board.

Moreover, in September 2015, the New York City Board of Health repealed the challenged ordinance. In the wake of the Second Circuit's adverse decision, the City determined to withdraw the regulation and attempt to achieve its public safety objectives using other, less intrusive means, as Jones Day had urged, rather than to seek to satisfy the standard set forth by the Court of Appeals. The repeal represents a major practical victory for Jones Day's clients, turning back the first attempt in the United States to regulate the practice of ritual circumcision.

Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States & Canada v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Health & Mental Hygiene, No. 13-107 (2d Cir.)