The company that operated a privately owned parking ramp in Jersey City, N.J., 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 said.
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 Com?mission's own complaint to the property owner. The Foundation appreciates such commitment to the law."