Miami Beach's volcanic eruv-tion rumbles on.
On Monday, Miami Beach city attorney Raul Aguila responded to complaints that an eruv in Pinetree park is unconstitutional. Aguila told the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) that the city-sanctioned eruv is "consistent" with U.S. court decisions. But the FFRF has shot back, arguing that "there is nothing secular" about the symbolic sticks and string structure.
"What do you think the reaction would be if Miami Beach endorsed and even helped devout Muslims rope off an area in which to adhere to Sharia law?" wrote FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel.
The religious freedom flap began two months ago when Miami Beach residents complained about an eruv that had popped up in Pinetree Park.
The argument escalated last week when FFR got involved. The national atheist organization complained to the City of Miami Beach, arguing that the eruv was an unconstitutional merger of church and state.
"The religious significance of eruvin is unambiguous and indisputable," FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel wrote yesterday. "They are objects which are significant only to some Jews as a means to obey religious laws that have no bearing on non-adherents. They have no meaning except as a visual, public communication of a purely religious concept for religious believers of a single faith. The City cannot allow such permanent religious displays to be erected on public land."
In its July 10 letter, FFRF went so far as to suggest that the eruv had effectively roped Miami Beach's non-orthodox residents into a religion, community, or even "family" without their knowledge or consent.
"Allowing an eruv to be established and maintained publicly designates the enclosed area, in this case the entirety of Miami Beach, as affiliated with Orthodox Judaism. It imposes Orthodox Judaism on members of the public by surrounding their community with the physical indicia of a religion that they do not practice," Seidel wrote. "The eruv's observers also must, according to the group that maintains it, 'consider those who reside [in the eruv] as one family' in order to allow the otherwise prohibited activities. This is another imposed designation on those who happen to live in the eruv."
In a letter dated the same day, city attorney Aguila answered that "The City of Miami has acted consistent with the decisions of various courts in the United States... that an Eruv does not violate the establishment clause, and can be legally permitted.
"It has the secular purpose of allowing Orthodox Jews to participate in matters of daily living outside of their homes on Saturday, their Sabbath," Aguila continued. "Thus, permits have been issued for the Eruv in Miami Beach. With regard to the Eruv in Pine Tree Park, request has been made to responsible persons to properly obtain permits for the Eruv at that location. While we plan to continue to act in accord with the above, we appreciate your interest in the matter."
The city's explanation did not satisfy Seidel, however. Instead, in a reply letter sent out on Monday, the FFRF attorney ridiculed the city's claim that eruvin have "secular" purposes:
There is nothing secular about that purpose. FFRF successfully struck down Wisconsin's official Good Friday holiday, "observed for the purpose of worship" because worship is not a secular purpose. Similarly, the purpose of the eruv you've put forward is only meant to aid one particular religious sect, "Orthodox Jews," to act in accordance with that sect's own religious laws concerning "their Sabbath." There is nothing secular about helping a religious sect comply with religious law. What do you think the reaction would be if Miami Beach endorsed and even helped devout Muslims rope off an area in which to adhere to Sharia law?
Perhaps you were suggesting that the eruvin alleviate a burden on Orthodox Jews religious
exercise? This rationale might be acceptable if this were a government-imposed burden.
Soldiers serving overseas may not be able to worship as they choose so it may be an appropriate the government to provide them with a chaplain to accommodate their religion.
Orthodox Jews suffer no government-imposed burden on their religion. The Sabbath
prohibitions on labor are imposed by their own religion. If they do not wish to adhere to those rules, the solution is to renounce Orthodox Judaism--not designate public and private property that they do not own as belonging to that sect. This is as absurd as a Catholic deciding to fast for Lent and then claiming the government has a responsibility to feed him.
The government cannot favor one religion by alleviating its self-imposed burdens or allowing it to impose that religion over wide swaths of public and private property. This is not freedom of religion; it is the imposition of religion.
Seidel ended his letter by arguing that the city was playing with fire by favoring one religion over another.
"Our history has seen enough division over religious claims to land control or ownership and adhering law. The founders separated religion and government to stop that divisiveness," he said. "Government should not be facilitating for religious groups seeking to stake out more spiritual territory. In short, the government cannot sanction, let alone erect, religious loopholes. We renew our request to cease permitting eruvin and remove all unauthorized physical structures from public land."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's letter is included in full below: