Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A modest request 

The city’s Human Rights Commission has overreached badly in reading discriminatory intent into the straightforward language of signs that lay out a dress code for a few stores in one shopping strip in Brooklyn.

The signs, since removed, on seven storefronts on Lee Ave., the main shopping stretch of the Satmar Hasidic enclave of Williamsburg, stated — in English and Spanish — that shoes, shirts and long sleeves are required, and shorts and low-cut necklines are not allowed. That’s it.

Yet, the Commission sees the notices violating Section 8-107(4)(1) of the Administrative Code of New York, which prohibits a store from “directly or indirectly” denying service based upon a person’s “actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, age, gender, disability, marital status, partnership status, sexual orientation or alienage or citizenship status.”

In a city where businesses — from Hooters to the Harvard Club, Webster Hall to the Four Seasons — can require dress codes for customers (as well as employees), there’s simply nothing untoward about the Lee Ave. stores’ standard.

Nor is a generalized request for modesty somehow “a public accommodation trying to impose its religious beliefs on other people,” as commission Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel Clifford Mulqueen has inexplicably claimed.

He offered an entirely different rationale to Gothamist, that the signs made “one protected group of individuals [women] uncomfortable.” But the code applies to both men and women.

Notably, Mulqueen told the news site Vos Iz Neias he didn’t “actually remember” who leveled the complaint that prompted his agency to act.

In other matters — including refusals to cooperate with law enforcement and opposing a sensible effort to regulate a controversial circumcision practice — some ultra-Orthodox Jews have seriously tested the church-state divide.

But here, it’s the secular state that’s overstepping its bounds. Back off.


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