March 31, 2014 — The New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union have settled a lawsuit against the Village of Kiryas Joel with the government agreeing it will not endorse segregation of the sexes in a public park.
The NYCLU and ACLU sued the village in December after press reports documented a public park where women and girls were confined to an area with red benches and playground equipment, with boys and men confined to a blue area. In settling this case the NYCLU has confirmed that the village has removed all signs suggesting the red and blue areas may only be used by females or males.
“Public parks cannot segregate on the basis of sex any more than they can for race or national origin,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This agreement ensures that all park visitors have equal access to the entire park.”
The Kinder Park, on unincorporated land in the Town of Monroe, opened to residents of the Satmar Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel last year. According to press reports, signs written in Yiddish instructed that women and girls in the park must be confined to areas with red and pink benches, slides and jungle gyms, while boys and men were confined to areas of the park with blue equipment.
Last July, the NYCLU and ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request for records pertaining to the purchase, financing, operation and maintenance of the park to determine if the park was indeed segregated, if the park was financed with public funds, and if the government was enforcing or endorsing segregation. But the village in August denied that request. NYCLU and ACLU attorneys appealed the denial, but the village failed to respond, or even acknowledge, that request. Under New York law, failure to respond within 10 days constitutes a denial of the appeal and so the NYCLU and ACLU in December filed a lawsuit challenging the village’s refusal to disclose public records.
“Transparency is essential for the public to be able to trust the government, and for government to be accountable to the people,” said Brooke Menschel, an NYCLU attorney on the case. “We filed this lawsuit because New Yorkers have the right to know what government is doing. That’s why we have Freedom of Information laws.”
Kiryas Joel has been subject to numerous legal challenges because of the excessive entanglement of religion in all aspects of village life. Under the latest agreement, the NYCLU and ACLU will drop the lawsuit, but will continue to monitor the park over the next three summers to ensure that there is no endorsed or enforced segregation on the basis of sex in public places or programs.