Two recent articles published in The New York Times show remarkably different attitudes towards special religious accommodations, with the Times praising concessions to Muslims as “inclusive” while an identical concession to Orthodox Jews is described as “theocratic” and highly objectionable.
The issue at hand is special women-only swim times at public pools. Both Islam and Orthodox Judaism require women to dress modestly around men, and both often practice sex segregation to varying degrees. In an effort to accommodate them, some pools have created women-only swimming times so that women who can’t swim around men also have access to the pool.The New York Times can’t decide how it feels about this. When such policies appear to benefit Muslims, they are framed extremely positively– as a victory for inclusivity and a triumph over segregation and bigotry. But when the policies are designed to help Orthodox Jews in New York, the paper’s stance is very different.
The former attitude is on display in a Feb. 28 article titled “In Toronto, a Neighborhood in Despair Transforms Into a Model of Inclusion.” The article focuses on Toronto’s diverse Regent Park neighborhood, and dwells at length on the pool policies of the Regent Park Aquatic Centre.
“On Saturday evenings, mechanized screens shroud the center’s expansive glass walls to create a session that allows only women and girls to relax in the hot tub, swim laps or careen down the water slide, a rare bit of ‘me’ time treasured by many of the neighborhood’s Muslim residents,” the article reads.
It adds that Regent Park’s aggressive integration effort “provides a blueprint for successful economic and cultural integration” while offering a “scathing indictment” of New York, London, and other cities absorbing large numbers of immigrants.
While the piece is written as a regular news item rather than the opinion of the paper’s editorial board, it does nothing to suggest the swimming accommodations are anything other than a great idea by forward-thinking administrators.
But the tone is dramatically different in the Times’ June 1 editorial, “Everybody Into The Pool.” This time, the Times absolutely drips with disgust at the city’s use of the policies praised in Toronto as inclusive.
“Four times a week this summer … a public swimming pool on Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn will be temporarily unmoored from the laws of New York City and the Constitution, and commonly held principles of fairness and equal access,” the editorial reads. “Orthodox Jewish beliefs demand modesty in dress, and a strict separation of the sexes, and those are the beliefs to which the taxpayer-owned-and-operated Metropolitan Recreation Center will yield.”
The Times doesn’t just suggest the women-only hours are “unfortunate,” but it suggests their mere existence suggest New York is in danger of becoming a new Iran.
“The city’s human rights law … allows for exemptions “based on bona fide considerations of public policy,” but this case — with its strong odor of religious intrusion into a secular space — does not seem bona fide at all,” the editorial board asserts. “What [New York City Assemblyman Dov] Hikind, in a statement, called a ‘victory for human rights’ is in fact a capitulation to a theocratic view of government services.”
If New York’s Orthodox Jews want to swim, then they had better get their own private swimming pool, the Times concludes.
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