In Williamsburg’s Orthodox Section, It’s ‘No Sleeves, No Service’

New York City customers are used to abiding by the “no shoes, no service” rules posted in many restaurants and stores. But dress codes that ban shorts, sleeveless shirts and low-cut necklines in Williamsburg’s Orthodox Jewish section have drawn criticism and started a debate on the limits of religious freedom, reports The Jewish Press.

If a snooty restaurant can require that men wear dinner jackets in order to be served, is it okay for shopkeepers to require its customers to wear modest attire?  That’s the kind of question being debated in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, these days.

Critics of the practice argue that stores with dress codes don’t just serve the Jewish clientele. Marci Hamilton, who teaches constitutional law at Cardoza Law School in New York City sees the signs as an imposition of ultra-Orthodox customs on the larger community.

When asked to comment on signs hanging in Brooklyn shop windows that state: “No Low Cut Neckline Allowed in the Store,” or “Entry here in modest dress only,” Hamilton bristled.

According to an account in the New York Post, Hamilton referred to the Orthodox dress code as a form of “Balkanization” of the United States.  She said, “It’s no longer sufficient that [the Orthodox] have shared norms among themselves, they are increasingly trying to impose their norms on the rest of the culture.”

Meanwhile, UCLA Constitutional Law Professor Eugene Volokh, maintains that the United States Constitution is on the store owners’ side.

“Indeed, it is perfectly legal and a part of American tradition that certain communities in the United States prefer to interact primarily within their own parameters, the Amish, for example.”

For Volokh, so long as the dress code applies equally – and it need not even be applied exactly equally – and doesn’t single out people of a certain race, color or gender – there is nothing unconstitutional about the dress codes.

“There are still plenty of fancy restaurants in New York City that require men wear jackets, aren’t there?” Volokh asked.  “What’s the difference?”  In fact, a quick check reveals the famous 21 Club in Manhattan prohibits sneakers and jeans, and dinner jackets are required for male patrons.

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