The company that operates a privately owned parking ramp in Jersey
City, N.J., has agreed to stop giving religious discounts to ramp users
after the Freedom From Religion Foundation complained on behalf of one
of its more than 300 members in New Jersey.
The complainant noticed a sign that offered "special parking up to
10 hours" for $5 at the Journal Square Ramp on Saturdays and Sundays
for Jehovah's Witnesses, who worship at a nearby Assembly Hall. The
price for the general public was $8.
Rebecca Kratz Markert, Foundation staff attorney, wrote a Sept. 4 letter to Harwood Properties, which owns the ramp:
"Providing discounts only to members of the Jehovah's Witnesses
faith violates the federal Civil Rights Act, along with New Jersey
state law and the city code of Jersey City. The Civil Rights Act states
in relevant part, 'All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal
enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages,
and accommodations of any place of public accommodation . . . without
discrimination on the ground of race, color, religion, or national
origin,' " the letter said.
Such a restrictive promotional practice favors religious
customers and denies customers who do not attend Jehovah's Witnesses
services the right to "full and equal enjoyment" of the ramp, Markert
The Foundation ascertained that the $3 discount was not being
subsidized by the church. After the letter was sent to the property
owner, a different sign went up, offering parking at an even lower rate
of $4 to Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Foundation contacted the Jersey City Human Rights Commission about the violation.
Markert said the property owner objected initially and basically said we "should take him to court."
But after the city filed its own complaint, Harwood agreed
to stop the practice. Scott Harwood, managing member, wrote to the
city: "As of the date of this writing [Oct. 21], I have spoken to the
parking operator for the Square Ramp Garage, which we own, and they
advised me that as of this writing, they will no longer provide special
discount [sic] for the Jehovah's Witnesses."
Markert praised the quick intervention by Melvin Prince, senior
community relations specialist for the Jersey City Human Rights
Commission. "He recognized the outlandish nature of this civil rights
violation and even hand-delivered a copy of the Foundation's letter and
the Commission's own complaint to the property owner. The Foundation
appreciates such commitment to the law."