According to Councilman David Greenfield (an Orthodox Judaic), a NYPD police officer has been transferred from his Midwood precinct to a precinct in northern Manhattan. He was transferred because he made an Orthodox Judaic write his name on the Sabbath.
Rabbi Shalom Emer was caught jaywalking by the officer and was asked to present ID. The rabbi did not have ID on him (Orthodox Jews cannot carry wallets or ID on the Sabbath), so the officer asked him to write down his name and information. The rabbi said he could not because it was against his religious beliefs. The officer insisted and told him that if he refused to write his name and information, the rabbi could go to jail. The rabbi offered to take the officer to his home to retrieve his ID, but the officer did not want to do that and again told the rabbi to write down his name and information.
The rabbi wrote down his information after almost fifteen minutes of back-and-forth. The rabbi filed a complaint saying that the officer disrespected his religious beliefs, was insensitive to his religious beliefs, and forced the rabbi to violate his religious laws on the Sabbath.
Of course, the officer could have walked to the rabbi’s house and retrieved the ID. Of course, the officer could have just given the rabbi a warning and let him go. But the reality is that the law is the law. We can argue all day about how the officer could have done this, that, or the other, but the bottom line is that the rabbi broke the law by jaywalking on the very busy Kings Highway.
The main point of contention seems to be whether or not the officer had the authority to make the rabbi write his name down. We will leave that argument to the lawyers and investigators looking into the incident.
What also caught our attention here is that even if the officer allowed the rabbi to spell out his information while the officer wrote it down, the rabbi would still have to sign the jaywalking ticket. Refusing to sign a ticket, which is not an admission of guilt but an acknowledgment of your court summons, can lead to your arrest. So the rabbi would have had to use a pen and write either way.
The important issue here is that religion does not trump the law. It does not matter if your religious beliefs do not allow you to use a pen and paper: if you have to sign a ticket, you either do so or you go to jail. It does not matter if your religious beliefs require you to wear a burqa: you either take it off for your driver’s license or while driving or you don’t drive a car. It doesn’t matter if your religious beliefs are that god’s law supersedes man’s law: you either pay your taxes or you go to jail (hint hint Dr. Dino).
Whether or not the situation was handled correctly by the officer is a debate separate from whether or not religious beliefs trump the law. Officers can certainly make accommodations for religious beliefs when such accommodations do not hamper law enforcement or violate the law itself, but they are not required to do so. Religious sensitivity does not mean your religion gets to avoid the law.
You are not required to carry ID on you except under certain circumstances (driving a car would be one of those). But if you break the law, you do have to provide officers with your information, even if you do not have your ID on you: religious or non-religious.