Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gender Discrimination in Brooklyn Bus Line

Earlier this month, a woman named Melissa Franchy entered a Brooklyn bus and sat down in the front. However, as time passed she noticed she was getting odd stares. After the bus began to reach capacity, men insisted she move to the back of the bus. The men were Orthodox Jews and they explained the confused woman that she was on a privately owned Jewish bus. Their reasoning was solely, “If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?’” Melissa then complied with their demands and went to the back of the bus.

The B110 bus travels in Brooklyn between the towns of Williamsburg and Borough Park. The bus is open to anyone as it has a specific route number and bus signs like any other bus. The bus line is privately owned and operated, as its purpose is to serve the Hasidic residents in these two neighborhoods. It is a Hasidic tradition for men and women to avoid physical contact and in order to preserve this tradition; the bus requires women to sit in the back.

Private Transportation Corporation owns the bus company and it pays the city for the ability to provide this public service. Instead of passengers using Metrocards, they pay their $2.50 fare in dollars or coins. Last year the franchise paid New York City’s Department of Transportation $22,814 to keep the ability to provide its service.

However, there are laws prohibiting the discrimination of gender in public accommodations such as public transportation. Although the bus service is privately owned it still is a public service. This company’s gender discrimination is unconstitutional. A public accommodation is considered, “anyone who provides goods and services to the general public.” In addition, it is seen as illegal for public accommodations to, “set different terms for obtaining those goods or services to different groups.” Although this is a religiously owned private bus company I feel that this company should not be granted an exception to the anti-discrimination law.

Public accommodations can either be governmentally owned or privately owned. Privately owned businesses that offer goods and services to the public are viewed as public accommodations in terms of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Under federal law, public accommodations are not allowed to discriminate, as they are open to the public. I strongly believe that this type of discrimination is unconstitutional. Even though the bus company is privately owned, it is still considered a public accommodation. Public accommodations do not allow any sort of discrimination regardless of religious purpose. If the religious group feels so strongly about segregating women and men on transportation, they should use different methods such as utilizing a separate transportation that does not go through city money. By the bus being available for pubic use, there cannot be any type of discrimination whatsoever. The bus company does not have the right to not follow the anti discrimination laws if they obtain any sort of public funding or accommodation. If they wish to live with a completely different set of rules than they should provide their own private bus lines. No one in this modern day society is going to want to ride a bus that requires them to sit in the back. If they wish to live like this they can do it in private spaces not public services that are privately owned. This scenario reminds me of 1955 when Rosa Parks was told to give up her seat in order for a white passenger to sit down. This discrimination is unconstitutional as it goes against the 14th amendment and should not be allowed to continue.

21 comments:

Harry R. said...

I strongly disagree with Marissa's reasoning in this instance. The bus company is paying the city to operate as they do; they do not receive public funding. Also, your statement that "No one in this modern day society is going to want to ride a bus that requires them to sit in the back" is incorrect. This bus line has been in operation for nearly four decades, and in that time, nearly 100% of the bus line's users have agreed with the practice. I believe that a religious exemption should be made in this case.

Molly Veelguski said...

I disagree with Harry. Even though these buses are being paid by the city to operate as they do, they are still making stops at public locations. If they only want certain types of people on their buses then there should be private stops where the public will not get confused and find themselves on a segregated bus. I respect the sincerity of the Orthodox Jew's beliefs, however, if they want the segregation, the bus should be well advertised as that "type" of bus. Otherwise, without the choice for the public, this discrimination is unconstitutional.

Callie B said...

If the Supreme Court is to remain consistent on rulings then the Court should not grant the bus line a religious exemption. The precedent set in Bob Jones University v. United States established that benefits given to a private institution by the government could be taken away if the institution violates anti-discrimination laws. The bus line has the benefit of using a public route yet enforces gender discrimination so it seems likely that if the Court is consistent it will not allow a religious exemption.

Elena T said...

I agree with Marissa that this is unconstitutional. Privately owned or not this service is open to the public and should not have the right to discriminate. If they would like to set their own rules as to who can sit where in the bus than they should not have their buses open to the public. There is no question that their beliefs are sincere, but their beliefs in this scenario are discriminatory and the court should recognize the unconstitutionality of this matter.

Sophie K said...

I do not believe that this bus line should be granted a religious exemption because their policies enforce gender discrimination. Although the franchise paid New York City’s Department of Transportation to continue to provide their service, they still provide a public accommodation. Furthermore, it is unclear whether they make a profit from operating or if all of their money goes back to the city.
It also seems that Melissa Franchy was unaware of the bus’s policies when she sat in the front. Perhaps the franchise should publically display their policies so that potential customers are aware of what is going on.

Chris R. said...

The issue in question here is 'what is a public accommodation?' In Heart of Atlanta Hotel v. United States, the Court held that Congress could force a private business to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Working under this precedent, a public accommodation has historically been defined as any entity (public or private) that provides any service to the public (with or without government funding). With this in mind, working under the framework of the present law, no exemption should be made for this Jewish organization.

Annie M said...

I see both sides to this issue, however, to avoid the problem in general it should be clear to the public that they are getting on to such a bus. If the Jewish community is paying such a significant amount of money to uphold their beliefs in separating women and men then they should be able to do so. However if the pick up/drop off location of this specific bus doesn't differ from the public transportations pick up/drop off points, then they shouldn't be discriminated against once getting on.

Ashley R said...

A religious exemption should be granted. If people are uncomfortable with paying a private company that supports discrimination based on religious grounds, then the people decide not to ride the bus. The bus is intended for Hasidic Jews but does not discriminate against anyone – that is to say, anyone can ride the bus. The line simply insists that passengers respect the beliefs of the Hasidic Jews for whom the line is primarily intended. The bus line’s nondiscriminatory policy regarding passengership should not preclude their being granted an exemption. Their sex-based policy is simply an expression of free exercise within a business enterprise and should be recognized as such with an exemption from non-discrimination policies.

Harry R. said...

I feel that Ashley R's last sentence sums up the situation well. In response to Molly, the bus line does not only want "certain types of people on their buses." Callie, Bob Jones does not apply in this case as the bus line is receiving no federal money or by extension endorsement. Chris, Heart of Atlanta had no religious belief supporting their practices, a crucial difference compared to this instance. Due to the main users of the bus, an exemption should be made so that the residents of the local districts continue to have buses which they will use.

Jack Ness said...

I see that this is a fiery discussion, so obviously I would love to jump in. I feel that the Jews should not receive a religious exemption and that this is indeed discrimination. The reason for this has nothing to do with funding. I find that forcing a woman to sit at the back of a public bus is discriminating based on gender. If the Jews would like to continue their discriminatory practice, I feel that they could do that if the bus were not open to the public, but rather a private Orthodox Jewish people's bus.

Chris R. said...

I apologize for being unclear in my original post, Harry. I was not attempting to use the Heart case as precedent for this issue. Rather, I contend that public accommodations have historically been defined in this light as a result of this case. I in no way would argue that these cases are substantively similar, but merely that a key issue at stake here was defined, at least in part, by Heart of Atlanta.

Harry R. said...

I now understand your argument Chris, and I agree with you that the bus line in question should be defined as a public accommodation. However, I still feel that they should be given an exemption due to the specific clientele which makes up the "public" which uses the service.

Christopher J. said...

This issue is a clear example of the “separate but equal” argument, which has been ruled time and time again to be an unconstitutional practice. Specifically, separate but equal policies regarding public transportation were made illegal under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which deals with public accommodations, including transportation). Even though the buses in question are owned and operated by a private company, the fact that the company has entered into an agreement with the local government to act as public transportation makes it a public accommodation and thus under the restrictions created by federal law. An exemption from following these federal policies would be inappropriate, not to mention impossible to enforce (are police going to be called if someone refuses to be segregated?). If the Hasidic Jews want to continue their segregation practices voluntarily, that’s fire; however, if someone decides to ride the bus and refuses to be segregated, they cannot be forced to comply.

Harry R. said...

In response to Christopher, the crucial difference between these practices and "separate but equal" relates to the sincerely held religious beliefs of BOTH the men and the women, as well as the support of the policy by both parties. I do not feel that the enforcement issue is significant enough to affect a decision. If enough people began using the bus who steadfastly opposed the Hasidic tradition, then portions of the policy would be forced to change. However, the present situation supports the appropriateness of a religious exemption due to the current usage of the bus line.

Zermeno A. said...

Though I can see how this case may easily swing in either direction due to the specific circumstances, the court tends to steer away from religious exemptions in such instances. I strongly feel that “private” stops for this route would be beneficial for all parties within. People should have the right to choose whether or not they want to be within such environment. I also agree that this bus service contradicts the 14th amendment and it sets us back in regards to all of the advancements made against much discrimination.

Christopher J. said...

Harry, how many people riding the bus who oppose the rule constitute "enough" to initiate a change in policy? The problem with a "majority rules" scenario is that it leaves religious minorities without a voice. At what point does the minority grow large enough to become relevant and force the majority to change its policies?

Ally R said...

I believe that a religious exemption should be granted in this case. The privately owned bus company pays the city so that it may continue running and does not use city methods of payment, therefore disaffiliating itself from public transportation. The bus company follows a set of religious beliefs and segregates men and women based off of religious intent, not as an act of hatred. I agree with Annie when she said that the bus should have to "be clear to the public" in order to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future, so that potential passengers can choose another form of transportation rather than abiding to such beliefs.

Harry R. said...

In response to Christopher, the policies would have to be changed if it came to the point where the service provided no longer upheld the religious beliefs of the Hasidic Jews who use the service. The purpose of the bus line is to provide transport to individuals in the area. That clientele is, at present, nearly unanimously a group which will only use a bus if it has certain policies. As long as the bus line continues to provide a service to the public wherein those who wish to ride do so, then the policy should continue to be upheld.

Sam S said...

I also agree that a religious exemption should be granted in this case. The bus line is privately owned and intended for the use by Hasidic Jews however, they do open up and allow the public to ride on the bus. All that is being asked of the public riders on the bus is that they respect the Hasidic Jews tradition and religious beliefs by sitting segregated by gender.

kanderson said...

I am torn. I want to say that it is the business' right to provide service to whomever in whatever way they want. They are private, they make the rules. But, what if this were a private restaurant, telling a black individual thay they had to go to the back of the restaurant for religious reasons. I would not be ok with that. I understant that there are religious laws that require this practice for these jews, but it is disconcerning. On the other hand, you could take another PUBLIC bus that would not have this rule and if purpopsely available for all of its citizens. I am torn.

Grace R said...

Looking at this case, I completely understand both sides of the argument. The bus company is completely privately owned and has a main purpose of transporting Orthodox Jews. Thus the bus lines purpose is not secular, but religious. I can see this as more of a privilege than a right because the company could say that it was only for Hasidic Jews. For this reason, I could be swayed to reasoning with the Hasidic Jews that own the line. However, I also understand that the bus line is open to the public, allowing people of other faiths to use the bus. However, there are public transportation options. I feel like this is an issue of which amendment should trump the other, gender discrimination or religious exemption?