Religion

New York Hasidic Enclave To Desegregate Public Park After ACLU Settlement

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

A public park in the Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, N.Y., will desegregate the sexes after settling a lawsuit with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The NYCLU and the ACLU sued the Village of Kiryas Joel in December for forcing men and woman to congregate in separate areas of Kinder Park, which is located on unincorporated land in the Town of Monroe.

Areas for women and girls were marked with red benches and red playground equipment, while the area for males were marked with blue. There were reports that members of the Satmas Hasidic enclave had posted signs in Yiddish instructing females to confine themselves to pink and red benches, slides, and jungle gyms in the 283-acre park.

A Freedom of Information Act request showed the park was paid for with government funds, which therefore becomes a federal endorsement of gender segregation.

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“Public parks cannot segregate on the basis of sex any more than they can for race or national origin,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This agreement ensures that all park visitors have equal access to the entire park.”

“Transparency is essential for the public to be able to trust the government, and for government to be accountable to the people,” said Brooke Menschel, an NYCLU attorney on the case. “We filed this lawsuit because New Yorkers have the right to know what government is doing. That’s why we have Freedom of Information laws.”

When the lawsuit was first filed in December, Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield (Council Member David Greenfield) said the ACLU and NYCLU were “picking on these Hasidic Jews.”

“One of the great things about our country is the freedom that people of all cultures and backgrounds can enjoy without fear of government intrusion,” he said in a statement to Gothamist. “I was told that the park in Kiryas Joel was funded entirely by private donations and therefore is a private park. The reality is that many Hasidim, especially teenagers, would not play in a park unless there are separate areas for boys and girls due to their religious beliefs.”

The village’s attorney, Donald Nichol, maintained last week that Kiryas Joel "does not have any policy of directing, endorsing, or enforcing illegal segregation on the basis of sex in public places or programs.”

Sources: Rockland County Times, Gothamist