Sunday, April 1, 2012

Mezuzah v. Condo Association

In Stratford, Connecticut a woman is being fined $50 every day she keeps her mezuzah on her doorpost. Barbara Cadranel, the owner of the mezuzah, relayed her sadness and described being bullied by her neighbors who actually pulled down her mezuzah repeatedly before asking her to remove it. Her neighbors and the condo association claim that they are not reacting to the religious nature of the mezuzah but claim that Cadranel did not write the association to ask for permission to place the mezuzah on her door and that furthermore no one in the building is allowed to place anything on door frames or outside windows, considered a common area.

However, Cadranel claims that she was never told that she needed written permission from the condo association and the whole situation reeks of anti-Semitism. The video shows Easter decorations in force throughout the building, including in common areas, but the condo association claims these items are alright because they are not on doorposts. When a former member of the board was interviewed she could provide no reason why Cadranel should take down her mezuzah other than “to keep the place neat” and says she believes everyone, meaning all the non-Jews, will put them up simply because Cadranel was allowed to keep her mezuzah. While one neighbor stated she thought there may be some fire code violation no one from the condo association has offered up a legitimate reason as to why items are not allowed on door frames. This conflict is heating up because of the fine imposed every day Cadranel leaves the mezuzah up.

The role of religious symbols in the public sphere has been a heated debate. However, the mezuzah’s place on the threshold of the Jewish home leaves it in an ambiguous place. Cadranel’s lawyer stated, “A mezuza is not a decorative choice for Jews, or a choice of any kind.” The mezuzah has a very specific location and position that is identical in every Jewish home. While the condo association’s ban on items in doorframes seems neutral, albeit arbitrary, there is only one group of people with a constitutional right to put items in door frames affected by this ban, and this case one single person.

Judging from her neighbors’ reactions there may have not ever been any Jewish families in this condo to challenge this ban making residents assume the mezuzah is a decoration and confused why Cadranel is fighting them. Now that the legal battle is heating up I’m curious why they do not lift the ban especially since they have offered no legitimate reason for the ban in the first place. There seems to be no clear cut answer when put through the Lemon test, but the lack of a legitimate reason for such a ban calls into question its creation and defense these past few weeks.


Amisha P said...

This article is very interesting; I cannot wait to see the outcome. Many apartment/condo places ban having things in the public places. It seems to me that the neighbors are the ones who had a problem with the mezuzah, if they had not complained then the condo association might be okay with the mezuzah. In order to see if the condo association is objective then you have to wait until Christmas. If during Christmas anyone places decorations, secular or religious, on the doorframes, then I believe this case might turn into a freedom of religion case.

Amber P. said...

It will be interesting to see how this resolves. My questions is: Are the door-frames "owned" by the condo association or government? If they are it is definitely public space, but it not, how is the condo association able to regulate displays when it is private space? If the door-frames are indeed public space, I believe that if all things are banned, then nothing can be displayed. If all things are allowed, then all things can be displayed. Therefore there is not advancement of religion, no question in purpose, and no question in discrimination.