[UPDATE BELOW] The NYCLU and ACLU are suing a Hasidic enclave in Orange County in an attempt to get officials to release information about a park in which women and men are allegedly segregated.
Kiryas Joel, a Satmar-run village located within Monroe, NY, has allegedly been segregating a 283-acre public park by gender since it opened last spring, relegating women to areas with red playground equipment and benches and men to areas with blue playground equipment and benches. Though Satmar law dictates a separation between men and women, the civil rights groups argue that law prohibits any gender-based segregation on public property. "Public parks cannot segregate based on sex any more than they can on race or national origin,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement today. “New Yorkers have every right to know if this is happening here and if tax dollars are supporting something so blatantly unlawful."
The park, which also boasts separate walking paths for men and women, had its official opening in April, and was built using "special financing" obtained by the village's mayor, according to Haredim website BHOLWorld.com. Early photographs of the park showcased the segregated areas, which were designed under supervision from Kiryas Joel's "Committee of Modesty," and in July the NYCLU and ACLU filed a Freedom of Information request for financial documents pertaining to the park. That request was denied, and today they filed a lawsuit with Orange County's state Supreme Court asking the village to release the documents.
Calls to Kiryas Joel's legal representation have not been returned, but attorney Donald Nichol told the ACLU and NYCLU that "the Village has no gender-segregated park." This isn't the first time Kiryas Joel's been the center of controversy, and around the turn of the century the enclave was in battle with the New York State Board of Education in an attempt to create a public school district for disabled children; the village joined the school board in 2002.
In 2008, census rankings found that Kiryas Joel had the highest poverty rate in the U.S., and most of its residents used food stamps.
Update 4:49 p.m.: Donald Nichol, who represents the village of Kiryas Joel, tells us he has not reviewed any lawsuit from the ACLU or NYCLU. He forwarded us a letter to the NYCLU in August regarding the group's earlier FOIL request; in the letter he denies the Village has a segregated park:
There are no records meeting your requirements. The Village has no "gender-segregated public park located on approximately 280 acres of property." Thus the Village has no information regarding such a facility...The Village has no laws, rules or regulations concerning gender segregation. The Village has never enforced any segregation of any type or kind.