Saturday, March 31, 2012

The mezuzah debate

Recently, a condo association in Connecticut ordered Barbara Cadranel to take down her mezuzah from her doorpost arguing that it violated the condo by-laws.  A mezuzah is “a prayer scroll in a small clear plastic case” that is attached to a doorpost of a Jewish home in accordance with Jewish law.  According to the condo’s by-laws, decorations are allowed on doors—which are considered the condo owner’s property—but not on doorposts—which are considered common area.  The condo association told Cadranel that she must take down the mezuzah or be charged $50 a day that it remains up.  In this article, it does not state the reason it is against the by-laws to have the mezuzah on the doorpost.  However, the article is framed in a way to make it appear that the reason the mezuzah is not allowed is because it is a religious symbol.  It states “video from inside the complex showed several common areas adorned with Easter eggs and other Easter decorations.”  The only comment from the condo association is that only Cadranel’s side of the story is being told, but the condo association would not explain their side.  The Anti-Defamation League has agreed to help Cadranel during this situation.

An example of a mezuzah on a doorpost

As I stated previously, it is not clear if the issue at hand is because the mezuzah is a religious symbol, or because there is a rule not allowing anything on doorposts (possibly for fire safety concerns?).  If the issue is because the mezuzah is a Jewish symbol, then no other religious symbols (such as Easter decorations) should be allowed in common areas and Cadranel has a fair complaint against the condo association.  However, if the reasoning for not allowing anything on doorposts is a safety concern, then possibly the law hinders religion because hanging a mezuzah is part of Jewish law.  Should exceptions be made for the mezuzah in this condo complex?  The problem there then arises is when do religious exceptions become preference to religion?

Should this issue end up in court, I do not think I would be able to predict the outcome of the case.  On one hand, the by-law was likely not written with religion in mind and was likely made for safety reasons.  The law is neutral in that nothing is allowed on doorposts.  However, as far as I know, only the Jewish faith requires their members to put a symbol on their doorpost.  As such, even if the rule was written neutrally, the only people that will be concerned about the law are members of the Jewish faith.  The law unintentionally infringes on their practice.  As well, the doorpost is considered a common area and it appears that the issue is that residents are not allowed to hang decorative items in the common area.  If this is the case, then charging Cadranel the $50 a day and not the other residents that placed Easter decorations in the common area is privileging one religion over another.  Charging Cadranel and not the others hinders Cadranel’s free exercise of her religion.  Ultimately, I believe Cadranel should be able to hang the mezuzah on her doorpost and an exception should be made in the by-laws because hanging the mezuzah is not a choice but in accordance to Jewish law.  Otherwise Candranel could easily make the case for the condo association preventing her from practicing her religion.