Separation of Church and…Bus?

October 24, 2011

Political Theory

Everyone is taught about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that started in 1955 as a part of the Civil Rights movement. Rosa Parks vehemently refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus, when it was required at that time that all African Americans must sit towards the back of the bus. Now, Parks and the rest of the bus boycotters were standing up for racial equality.

Today, there seems to be another debate about seating on a public bus. According to this Daily Mail article (, there are signs on a Brooklyn, New York bus that direct men and women where to sit. Due to the religious customs of ultra-Orthodox, or Hasidic, Jews, men and women are forced to sit separately on the bus.

Now, intentional segregation in any public sphere is illegal. However, the extremely strong religious ties that the passengers on this specific bus line have make this an interesting political debate: Should the idea of the separation of church and state be used here to defend the actions of the passengers on the bus? Or is segregation based on gender on a public bus be made illegal?

As a Jew (although I am a reformed Jew), I know how important these specific religious values are to the passengers on this bus. As passenger Gitty Green quotes in the article, “It’s such a normal thing for us that women and men are separate. Most of the ladies go to the back.” Despite the open criticisms from Mayor Michael Bloomberg (a Jew, by the way), I do not think that even if a law was to be implemented that it would be effective. The Hasidic Jews in this specific neighborhood of Brooklyn pay more attention to the religious laws and the Torah than the Constitution and laws put forth by the United States government.

This is the B110 bus in Brooklyn, NY that is currently at the heart of this debate


How much attention should be paid to this “controversy.” Religious debates like this one happen almost daily. However, it is interesting to see what the opinions are about something as important as the separation of church and state. The First Amendment of the Constitution specifically states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In as much as the separation of men and women is an outright practice of Hasidic Jewish customs and ideals, making any legal decisions on this case could be a violation of the First Amendment.

So what do you think? Should men and women be legally allowed to be separated based on religious customs? Or should a law be put in place to avoid any possible outrages about the segregation on the busses?



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9 Comments on “Separation of Church and…Bus?”

  1. Jake Weimar Says:

    The bus system should not be allowed to segregate men and women. The NYC bus system is chartered by the New York state government. The bus system is segregated because of conservative religious views.

    The Constitution says church and state should be kept separate. Separate but equal was deemed to be inherently unequal by supreme justice Earl Warren in the court case Brown v Board of Education. This means that segregating the bus for religious views is both illegal and unconstitutional.

    • Steve Dougherty Says:

      Agreed. Not only that, but when buses direct people where to sit in accordance with a religion, they are imposing that religion on people. Were it a private bus system this would be fine, but as a governmental service it cannot be permitted. Practicing religion is fine, but the state has no business promoting it.

  2. clawren Says:

    I think that this separation should not be allowed. If this is apart of their religion, then they should just choose to sit in separate parts of the bus. People have the freedom to express their religion, but they can not force it on other people. It is not legal to make people on the bus who are not orthodox jews follow these rules. The constitution clearly states that church and state should be kept separate, so the buses fall under this category since they are run by the state government. As well-known and respected as the Rosa Parks story is, it is shocking that something like this would ever occur. Not only do I myself disagree with this separation of men and women, but it will never be allowed since it is clear violation of the first amendment.

  3. sarahspath23 Says:

    To me, this seems like a clear issue of separation of church and state because a practice of the Hasidic Jewish faith, separating women and men, is being scrutinized by the public and state. People are allowed to express and practice their religious beliefs without interference, even in public. Does this mean though that people can defy laws based on religious beliefs if they are in the public arena? I do not believe so.

    In my opinion, the issue depends on if the bus is only used by people of the Hasidic Jewish faith or not. If the bus is truly public, meaning that it is paid for by the state, and only people of the Hasidic Jewish faith ride the bus, I think that the state should stay out of the issue. Although many of us may judge this practice and look down upon it, it is part of their religious culture, history, and beliefs. Therefore, they have the right to practice these beliefs by separating women and men on the bus. I do not believe this is the case in the article though.

    If the bus is public and does allow for people not of the Hasidic Jewish faith to ride it, I believe that it is in the state’s power to intervene. Even if people outside the Hasidic Jewish faith don’t normally ride this bus, if they are allowed to, the bus does not belong to the Hasidic Jewish faith but to the state. In this case, if people of other faiths were to ride this bus, it would not be fair to them to have to abide by the practices of a different religion. This is in the state’s jurisdiction, so to speak, because it is a public bus and one religion cannot make the rules for it.

    Let’s say, for example, that one woman of the Christian faith got on this bus and had to sit in the women section of the bus instead of where she might have wanted to sit. This may seem to the woman like a flashback of a Rosa Parks-type situation, where she does not have the freedom to sit where she wants due to the fact that she is a woman. The state must protect the rights of all religions or beliefs equally and not favor one religion’s beliefs because it is the majority.

    What is interesting to me is where to drawn the line when it comes to the practices of other religions and the beliefs that the state and many Americans hold. If the state did not step in to say that men and women should not be separated on the bus, the people of the Hasidic Jewish faith or any faith in general would be less weary of defying other laws. The laws are in place to protect all people and maintain consistency and equality throughout the country. This is critical because although we do have separation of church and state, how far are we willing to go before this justification becomes dangerous to society.

    For example, if, hypothetically, it was part of the history and culture of a religion for the man in the family to hit his wife if she refused his demands. Would this still be an issue of separation of church and state? Would this even be debated or would arrests be made without a second thought? I think the latter because domestic abuse is physically harming someone, which is endangering the woman’s freedom to life and completely against most Americans’ values. Of course, this is purely hypothetical and slightly extreme in order to emphasize my point that it is difficult to know where to draw the line when it comes to religious beliefs that cause people to break the laws.

    Although this is a difficult situation, I believe that it is within the state’s rights to intervene and ensure that men and women are not forced to be separated on this public bus. It is well within the Hasidic Jewish religion’s rights to believe that men and women should be separate and to act based on this belief, but not when it could infringe on other people’s religious beliefs in the public sector.

  4. emmaschneider11 Says:

    I think that the doctrine of separation of church and state clearly outlaws legislation that requires segregation of men and women on busses for religious purposes. At the same time citizens have the right to freely practice their religion and so the government has no right to tell the citizens that they cannot separate themselves on the busses if they want to.

    Segregation on the basis of any characteristics, including gender, is illegal and I think that not many people expect a law creating gender segregation on these busses to be passed, or would accept it if it was. In my opinion, I don’t think that these residents even want a law that segregates their bus routes. It seems as though they are content with the current voluntary system.

    If these bus riders want to sit in a certain way on their busses I don’t see why that would be a problem in any way. The riders seem to be settled in their ways and content with the absence of a law. The government should not be concerned with this issue, and the public shouldn’t either. There is not a problem with the bus riders segregating themselves if that’s what they want, as long as there is not a law outlawing or requiring it.

  5. jillburnette9 Says:

    This is a sticky situation because of the precedent that would be set after a decision was made. Personally, I do not believe that the bus system should be allowed to segregate men and women by assigning them to specific spots on buses. Although many people would argue this is going against the separation of church and state I would disagree.

    Yes, individuals are allowed to freely express their religious views in public but in this case it is not just the individual practicing their religion, it would be a company forcing every individual who rides their buses to practice a particular religion, which is illegal. Even if a majority of riders may be Hasidic Jews, not all will be. If the riders who do practice these religious views choose to sit separated on the buses then that would be fine, but I do not believe that all individuals should be forced to practice because not all are believers.

  6. ksoisson Says:

    A separation of gender on a public bus is unconstitutional. It does not matter that it is for religious reasons. Religion and state are separate and this is a conflict of the two. I’m not really sure how this has been in effect. Because there is no law supporting this, there cannot be signs on the bus that specifically state where each gender must sit. It is okay for men to sit in the front if they want, but no one can be told where to sit on a public bus. Each gender has a every right to choose for themselves. The state needs to step in on an issue like this one.

  7. dannilevin9492 Says:

    I think it is up to the situation to decide whether or not segregation is acceptable at that specific time and place. Looking back to the days the Civil Rights Movement, especially the Rosa Parks bus scandal, racism was still much of an issue and segregation was present as a result. At this time, segregation broke laws of equality. By forcing blacks to sit in the back of the bus due to Jim Crow Laws, it created a heirarchy of power and acceptance within our country. During this time, whites were seen as supremacists and should sit in the front of the bus, while blacks who were looked down upon must sit in the back, separate from the whites. The Rosa Parks bus scandal was a turning point in America’s Civil Rights issues, and it added much contribution to the fight for equality.

    However, this type of segregation is not in any way the same as the segregation that occurs among Hasidic Jews. These people choose to be segregated based on their religion. Blacks did not choose to be segregated, not only on busses but in restaurants or churches as well. In this situation, segregation is more of a choice than a law.

    America now has laws of equality that exist as a result of The Civil Rights Movement, ones which ban segregation from taking place in our society. Nonetheless, freedom of religion is also an American law that is exercised by its people. Therefore, if being a part of Hasidic Judaism requires sitting separately on busses then this segregation should be allowed, especially if it really is doing no harm to society.

    Now a days, people think merely nothing of sitting in the back of the bus. In fact, if you haven’t noticed, kids prefer the back of the bus than the front. It is seen as cool. If we were to see a black kid sitting in the back of the bus, no one would go up to him and ask if white people made him sit back there. If we make problems that once occurred on a bus much more present in today’s society, than people with think more of it than it is. It goes the same way for Hasidic Jews. They should be allowed to exercise the way they sit freely without it being related to the segregation that once occurred on busses.

  8. jeanchaw Says:

    This situation is pretty simple. Since the NYC government runs the bus systems, they cannot segregate the buses because it is against the law. Since it is against the religious views of these people to have men and women sit together then they can just not sit to someone of the opposite sex. Does there really need to be a sign if these people know the rules of their religion. Since these people follow their religion more than the constitution they can govern themselves on the bus there is no need for government intervention.

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