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Lead Us Not Into Penn Station:Provocative Pieces

National Convention

October 7-9, 2016



Published by FFRF

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Lauryn Seering

Lauryn Seering

1metropoolThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is objecting to gender discrimination at a New York public pool.

At the Metropolitan Pool, owned and operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, there are women-only hours on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. The hours were temporarily eliminated but were brought back under pressure from N.Y. Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

Hikind claims that the Parks Department is being "culturally sensitive" in allowing women-only swimming sessions. But in actuality, it is catering to a tiny segment of the population whose religious tenets require separation of the genders for such activities: the Orthodox Jews. By being "culturally sensitive" to one group, the Parks Department is being culturally insensitive to everyone else, and is depriving men access to the pool at certain times. This sends a message to all non-Orthodox Jews that they are outsiders.

"New York may not allow particular religious views to affect public property rules, and the intent of the women-only hours at the Metropolitan Pool is clearly only to benefit a small religious community," FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Markert writes to New York City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mitchell Silver. "Furthermore, the government cannot promote one religion over another or nonreligion over religion, since, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, the First Amendment 'requires the state to be neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and nonbelievers.'"

FFRF is asking that the women-only hours at the Metropolitan Pool be discontinued to end an unconstitutional policy.

"In catering to the religious desires of a portion of the population, New York City is ignoring the U.S. Constitution," says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. "The city cannot bend and twist the law to accede to the political clout of one group."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 24,000 nonreligious members all over the country, including almost 1,300 in the state of New York.



The Freedom From Religion Foundation is protesting religious decals on patrol vehicles in Kansas.

The Harper Police Department has placed a decal on the back of patrol cars reading "Romans 13:4." The New Testament verse in question reads as follows: "For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (King James Version).

Displaying a decal referencing this ominous Christian threat violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, FFRF contends.

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that the First Amendment 'mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to Harper Police Chief Doug Murphy. "Placing decals referencing biblical quotes on the back of a law enforcement vehicle fails to respect either constitutional mandate of neutrality." 

It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for a government entity to display such a decal on its property because it conveys a preference by the Harper Police Department—and by extension, the city of Harper—for religion over nonreligion and Christianity over all minority faiths, Seidel adds. Citizens interact with and rely on law enforcement officers during some of the most urgent and vulnerable times of their lives. When law enforcement mandates the display of a symbol from a preferred religion on county property, not only does it unconstitutionally endorse religion, but also alienates the nearly 30 percent of Americans who are non-Christian, including the almost one-fourth of the U.S. population that is religiously unaffiliated.

The Harper Police Department's choice of verse to display is particularly disturbing. Romans 13 begins by claiming, "There is no power but of God: The powers that be are ordained of God." This statement directly conflicts with the U.S. Constitution's source of power: "We, the People." There is also something perverse about referring to "revengers," "bearing swords" and "executing wrath," when the job of the Harper Police Department is to protect and serve, not to mete out biblical punishments or divine wrath.

"It's bizarre for the Harper Police Department to go down this road," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "It is inappropriate at every level for a government agency to reference intimidating biblical verses on official property."

Spending taxpayer time and money placing religious symbols on patrol cars is beyond the scope of secular government, FFRF reminds the Harper Police Department. It requests that the Romans 13:4 decals be removed from police vehicles, and that the department inform FFRF in writing of the steps it intends to take to remedy this constitutional violation. FFRF recently settled a lawsuit with nearly identical facts against the Brewster County Sheriff Department in Texas. That sheriff put crosses on vehicles, ignored FFRF's letters of complaint, and ended up losing a lawsuit, costing the county about $20,000 in attorney fees

FFRF is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to the separation of state and church, with almost 24,000 nonreligious members across the country, including nearly 150 members in Kansas.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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