In a case that is increasingly being viewed by Orthodox Jews as the city stepping over the fine line of religious rights in the name of human rights, a New York City councilman is calling on the city agency to drop a lawsuit against a group of Brooklyn store owners who posted signs requesting that customers abide by their religious-based dress code.
David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat who represents Boro Park and Flatbush, said he asked in a series of telephone calls this week to members of the New York City Commission on Human Rights that they stop targeting the Williamsburg proprietors who hung signs in the windows of their Lee Avenue stores with certain restrictions, including “no shorts; no barefoot.”
“This is only the latest example of New York’s bureaucracy singling out Orthodox Jewish citizens,” Greenfield said in a statement. “It’s another clear example of government needlessly overstepping its authority.”
Greenfield compared the store signs to the very common dress code at upscale restaurants requiring jackets or banning casual clothes.
He said he explained to members of the commission, including Chairwoman Patricia Gatling, Joseph Potasnik and Haskel Lookstein, that the Orthodox community was very upset at their decision to sue the store owners. Greenfield said that the latter two agreed with him that the HRC was going too far.
He asked that they request of the full commission to withdraw the lawsuit, which did not come in response to any formal complaint by the public.
“In my conversations with the commissioners and the chair, I conveyed my deep concern over the negative message that is being sent to the Orthodox Jewish community,” Greenfield said. “I remain hopeful that the commissioners will carefully consider their staff’s actions and instruct them to end this lawsuit immediately.”
The commission said in their filing that the signs may cause women to feel uncomfortable. However, an attorney for the shopkeepers say the signs do not single anyone out and are geared toward men also.
The suit briefly entered mayoral politics last month, when Republican candidate Joe Lhota visited one of the stores. He told the storeowner that as mayor he would immediately drop the grievance. The Daily News, in an editorial earlier this month, also sided with the defendants in a case they called “the secular state that’s overstepping its bounds,” calling on the city to “back off.”
The case is scheduled for a two-day administrative trial in January after the judge refused a request to drop the case.