A group that calls itself “Freedom from Religion” (FFR) filed a complaint against the expansion of the Miami eruv into the city’s Pinetree Park, claiming that it is in violation of the Constitution’s Establishment Clause separating religion and state.
The objection met with a quick reaction from City of Miami attorney Raul Agulia. “The City of Miami has acted consistent with several courts in the United States … an eruv does not violate the Establishment Clause and can be legally permitted.”
Countering FFR’s claim that the eruv “serves no secular purpose” and is thereby unconstitutional, Agulia stated that that “the eruv serves the secular purpose of allowing Orthodox Jews to participate in matters of daily life outside of their homes on Saturday, their Sabbath.”
In a letter to Agulia, FFR insisted that “there is nothing secular about helping a religious sect comply with religious law. What do you think the reaction would be if Miami Beach endorsed and even helped devout Muslims rope off an area in which to adhere to sharia law?”
In an interview with Hamodia, Andrew Seidel, FFR’s staff attorney, expanded on the purpose of this comparison. “The comparison to sharia law was a means of clarifying that just a sectioning of an area of public property to conform to sharia law would be repugnant; the eruv should be viewed no differently.”
Seidel explained his organization’s philosophy as follows: “For any citizen to truly have the freedom of religion, they must first have the ability to be free from religion and a government that is free from religion. Without freedom from religion, freedom of religion cannot exist.”
Seidel said that the existence of the eruv is a disservice to Miami residents on the account of its being an “eyesore” and that “it forces them [residents] to endorse religion, which is something that they should have a right not to do.”
“These guys said exactly what they are after,” said attorney Yerachmiel Simmons, questioning FFR’s intentions in their involvement in the matter. “To say that it is unconstitutional for government to help a group to practice religion would disallow any shul from getting a building permit.”
Attorney Martin Tenzer, who has broad experience in legal battles over eruvs, told Hamodia that there has never been a clear ruling from courts regarding eruvin and the Establishment Clause, as the much publicized 2003 case in Tenafly, New Jersey, was won on a technicality.
Despite the lack of precedence, Tenzer argued that an eruv should notpresent a legal problem. “A lechi [an object used in the construction of eruvin] is not a religious symbol like a magen Dovid or a cross. It’s a piece of plastic that has no religious significance to those who do not believe in its purpose.”
Simmons rejected the basic premise upon which FFR has based its objections; “This organization is making a fundamental mistake; freedom of religion is founded on protecting religious practice, not banishing it from the public sector.”