In response to a letter sent to NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill by Councilman Daniel Dromm urging the Police Department to investigate an op-ed that appeared in Hamodia’s Sukkos edition, Ronald Coleman, an attorney representing the newspaper, observed that the “letter is in and of itself an unlawful interference, made under color of state law, with Hamodia’s free speech rights.”
Mr. Coleman, a partner with the Archer law firm, known for his recent success in protecting the First Amendment in the United States Supreme Court, urged the Police Commissioner to recognize that Mr. Dromm’s letter “violates the United States Constitution, federal civil rights law, the constitution and law of the State of New York and the Human Rights Law of the City of New York.”
At the heart of the matter is a story about the Chofetz Chaim told in a recently published opinion piece titled “Not When it Comes to Our Children!”
In his letter to the Commissioner, Councilman Dromm stated that the head of a controversial group seeking to make changes to the yeshivah system had “explained” to him that “the term rodef/rodfim connotes ‘pursuer’ and is well known for its use by the assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin.”
“Within this cultural context it should be considered a death threat,” Mr. Dromm claimed, adding that “I appreciate you taking this matter very seriously.”
Responding to this distortion, Mr. Coleman first noted in his response to the Commissioner that the opinion column didn’t even mention the name of the organization, its head, nor any of its members, and for this reason alone could hardly be understood as a threat. Mr. Coleman also observed that Mr. Dromm’s interpretation of the meaning of “rodef” in this context is given the lie by the article itself.
“Mr. Dromm leaps ridiculously from a homily describing the life-saving actions of a figure renowned for his modest, unassuming nature to the tragic assassination of a politician by an extremist in another country,” Mr. Coleman wrote.
“Regarding the Police Department, the suggestion by Councilman Dromm that the NYPD aggravate his misuse of City resources and dispatch its considerable prestige, legal power and investigative resources to ‘investigate’ a newspaper editorial about education is an outrage,” the attorney stated. “This Byzantine logic cannot justify assigning law enforcement to chill the editorial expression of a community newspaper.”
In response to inquiries by various media outlets, Hamodia released the following statement:
As expressed in its letter to the Commissioner, Hamodia is fully confident that the NYPD has no interest in violating its free speech rights. There has been no threat made against anyone in the pages of Hamodia and its editorial expression is, under the First Amendment, of no concern to any City agency — especially the Police. Because, however, a member of the City Council has improperly used City resources and invoked official action to chill Hamodia’s speech, and because the City has not clarified what should be an obvious response to the Councilman’s censorship attempt, we consider this an active civil rights matter. For this reason we will make no further public statements except through our counsel at this sensitive time.