NYC Sues Hasidic Shopkeepers Over Dress Codes

New York City residents have lots to worry about. The city’s outstanding debt exceeds $100 billion. The interest alone exceeds $6 billion annually. The city’s tax base continues to shrink as businesses, fed up with New York’s high rates, flee to lower-tax jurisdictions. The city’s infrastructure desperately needs an upgrade. And Hasidic shopkeepers in Brooklyn are engaged in a blatant campaign to violate customers’ human rights.

At least that’s what the city’s human rights commission argues. The commission is suing Hasidic shopkeepers who have hung signs in their windows stating, “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low cut neckline allowed in this store.” The commission argues that this dress code discriminates against women in violation of the city’s public accommodations law. According to the deputy commissioner, the signs are “pretty specific to women,” and requiring women to “dress modestly if they come into the store” is illegal.

Now, generally speaking, anti-discrimination laws allow public accommodations to have dress codes, as long as the codes don’t discriminate against protected classes. On its face, it’s not clear how this dress code is discriminatory. It treats men and women the same. Let’s say a barefoot woman wearing shorts walks into a store. She may be asked to leave. Let’s say a barefoot man in shorts tries to do the same thing. He also may be asked to leave. Where’s the discrimination? Now, it’s true that the stores might apply a facially neutral dress code in a discriminatory way.  So, for example, if the shopkeepers in practice excluded only women, that would be a problem. According to the stores’ lawyer, though, there’s no evidence that the stores have ever excluded any woman–or man, for that matter– for any reason.

In short, it’s not clear where the illegality lies. But there’s a deeper point. New York is a cosmopolitan city  in which people with very different lifestyles must find some way to get along. Mostly, New Yorkers do that by tolerating things that offend us. That works fine, most of the time. Maybe these religious storeowners should simply put up with dress they find immodest in the interests of a more expressive society. But is it really too much to ask someone to abide by this fairly innocuous dress code before going into a store, if that’s what the store owner wants? Is the injustice really so great that the store owner must be hauled into court and taught a lesson? Aren’t there more important problems for the city to tackle?

Sugary soft drinks, for instance.

Conference: “Rights and Rites: A UK Perspective on Law and Religion,” at Fordham

If you are in the New York City area this coming Tuesday, February 26, you should consider attending this interesting conference sponsored by Fordham Law School’s Institute on Religion, Law, and Lawyer’s Work: “Rights and Rites: a UK Perspective on Law and Religion.”  Here’s Fordham’s description of the conference:

Ms. Archbold will critique the UK legal approach to religion, comparing the US and French constitutional approaches to religion (which are at opposite ends of the spectrum) to the UK approach. Ms. Archbold will ask whether there is a fundamental tension between the anti-discrimination and human rights approaches, while reviewing the landscape of UK and European Court of Human Rights case law, including the veil, religious symbol, school admissions, and religion and sexual orientation discrimination cases. Being from Northern Ireland, Ms. Archbold will offer insight into particular anti-discrimination and positive public duty provisions in Northern Ireland that have been demonstrated to be effective in reducing discrimination on the grounds of religion.


Claire Archbold, Head of Legal Services, Northern Ireland Department of Justice


Professor Michael W. Martin, Fordham Law School Clinical Associate Professor of Law

Register here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 | 12:45-1:45PM

Guiora, “Freedom from Religion”

Freedom from ReligionThis month, Oxford University Press published Freedom from Religion: Rights and National Security, Second Edition by Amos Guiora (Quinney College of Law, University of Utah).  The publisher’s description follows.

Although many books on terrorism and religious extremism have been published in the years since 9/11, none of them written by Western authors call for the curtailment of religious freedom and freedom of expression for the sake of greater security. Issues like torture, domestic surveillance, and unlawful detentions have dominated the literature in this area, but few, if any, major scholars have questioned the vast allowances made by Western nations for the freedoms of religion and speech.

Freedom from Religion challenges the almost sacrosanct inviolability of these two civil liberties. By drawing the connection between politically-correct tolerance of extremist speech and the rise of terrorist activity, this book sets the context for its unique proposal that governments should introduce new limits on religious practice within their borders. To demonstrate the wisdom of this course, the author presents the disparate policies and security circumstances of five countries: the U.S., the UK, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Israel. The book benefits not just from the author’s own counter-terrorism experience in Israel and the U.S. but also from an international advisory group of leading scholars from all five of the countries under review.
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