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New York Times notices religious liberty for Orthodox Jews By: Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

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By: Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

Last week, the self-styled “paper of record” finally took notice of a phenomenon we at the Becket Fund have been talking about (see Blog: Fear, Loathing, and Demographics) for a long time: the New York City government’s conflicts with its growing population of Orthodox Jews. New York Times reporter Joe Berger penned a well-researched article describing conflicts ranging from attempts to prosecute Orthodox store owners for requiring some modesty of their customers, to refusals to accommodate Hasidic women’s requests for a female lifeguard, to targeted regulation of the ancient circumcision ritual of metzitzah b’peh.

The article is revealing of government officials’ ignorance of the law of religious accommodation. For example, a City parks official stated regarding the Hasidic women’s request, “We don’t have a formal policy, but we can’t commit to providing a female lifeguard because it would run against the establishment clause of providing a service on the basis of a religious belief.” The City takes this position despite unanimous Supreme Court precedent dating to 1987 holding that government accommodations of private religious practices does not violate the Establishment Clause. The bad legal advice City officials are apparently getting, when combined with the growing Orthodox population in the City, practically guarantees further litigation over religious liberty for Orthodox Jews.

And the stakes in that litigation will be high. Although government disfavor towards religious minorities takes many forms across the United States and is hardly a new feature of our body politic, this set of conflicts is especially important because of New York’s religious diversity, its prominence in the American imagination, and the example its policies set for other municipalities. In short, if religious liberty can make it in New York, it can make it anywhere. Friends of religious liberty should work to make sure it does.


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