New York ‘Sukkahs’ need to stop obstructing pedestrians

The Freedom From Religion Foundation opposes the illegal construction of temporary structures called sukkahs that are annually placed on Brooklyn, N.Y., public sidewalks each year for the Jewish holiday Sukkot.

Observant Jews eat inside outdoor booths during the festival Sukkot. Sukkahs are intended to represent the temporary dwellings claimed to have been used by Israelites while “wandering the desert.” This year, Sukkot will be celebrated Sept. 19-25.

The sukkahs often block public sidewalks and disregard city codes of safety. Most of these structures have been built without permits, but are often taken down before city enforcement action is taken.

FFRF, a national state/church watchdog in Madison, Wis., has over 19,900 members with more than 1,100 in New York state. On Sept. 6, FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott sent a letter to the City’s Department of Sanitation Bureau of Legal Affairs to address these sukkahs. FFRF had sent a previous complaint in 2012.

The Bureau of Legal Affairs had responded to FFRF’s 2012 complaint on Jan. 8, 2013, stating: “The above mentioned sukkahs were not issued permits authorizing their construction by the City. When a permit is issued for such construction, permittees are instructed that such construction must allow for the free flow of pedestrian traffic. Based on the pictures you enclosed, it appears that the structures impeded the flow of pedestrian traffic and would therefore constitute a sidewalk obstruction.”

FFRF stated in its follow-up letter: “The Department has not done enough to address this problem.”

Elliott added, “FFRF urges the Department to inform all staff about this issue so that the violations do not continue to evade enforcement. The Department must also take prompt enforcement action when violations are reported so that one religious group does not continue to receive preferential treatment.”

FFRF contends that the structures public sidewalks disregard city codes, and that non-enforcement of current policies regarding the sukkahs give the appearance of government endorsement of religion and religious favoritism.

If you live in New York City and sukkahs are obstructing sidewalks, you can report violations by calling 3-1-1 or filing a complaint HERE. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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