Do not approve an upcoming grant to fund the maintenance of a religious boundary, known as an eruv, the Freedom of Religion Foundation is urging the Miami Beach City Commission.
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, the City Commission is set to vote on a resolution to grant $72,000 to the Miami Beach Eruv Council for maintenance and repairs related to an eruv line located in Miami Beach. A memorandum from City Attorney Rafael A. Paz describes the grant as “legally defensible.” The FFRF, however, disagrees.
An eruv line acts as a way for Orthodox Jews to leave their homes during the Sabbath, which is normally restricted, by “expanding” their private property. As this burden is not imposed by the government but rather their own religious beliefs, FFRF is publicly objecting to the city’s grant to the Eruv Council.
“The City Commission is considering paying for the maintenance of this sectarian object, which provides no benefit to the majority of Miami Beach’s residents, and only a minimal benefit to a minority of the city’s Jewish population,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes in a letter to Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and city commissioners. “While we still maintain that it is inappropriate to allow an eruv at all, it is clear that expending taxpayer funds to support this sectarian religious practice is unconstitutional.”
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment strictly forbids governmental favoritism for one religion over another. As the eruv line provides no benefit for the majority of residents of Miami Beach, but rather solely Orthodox Jews, this would show a clear favoritism on the part of the Miami Beach City Commission. Any defense stating that this is a “secular grant” works directly against the inexorable religious connotation of an eruv line to begin with.
Furthermore, while courts have supported the existence of such eruv lines, no court has held that governments can fund or maintain them.
By using taxpayer dollars to maintain a structure of Orthodox Judaism, the enclosed space inside of the eruv line becomes affiliated with Orthodox Judaism. Furthermore, the government is suggesting this belief system is the “correct” one. This needlessly alienates all non-Jews, non-Orthodox Jews and the 26 percent of Miami-Dade County residents who are nonreligious or religiously unaffiliated, and works to impose Orthodox Judaism upon all else.
Additionally, the grant can easily be seen as a special benefit to a specific religious organization, which would further violate the Establishment Clause. By providing taxpayer dollars to the Miami Beach Eruv Council, the government is giving a direct benefit to a religious group to practice its religion.
Hence, FFRF is insisting that this grant is unconstitutional and therefore cannot be approved. It is urging the Miami Beach City Commission reject this resolution in order to promote the interests of all residents of Miami Beach.
“This grant would draw a clear line in the sand in support of Orthodox Judaism — and no one else,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “No one should have to look up and be reminded that their residence falls within a taxpayer-funded religious domain.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 39,000 members and several chapters all across the country, including close to 2,000 members and a chapter in the Sunshine State. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.