One of the great things about New York City is it's diversity. Southerners don't get to experience a great deal of ethnic diversity -- in fact, they work hard to avoid it by enforcing rigid but unpublished rules of social conformity. Perhaps the biggest adjustment on a subconscious level Southerns must face when moving to the city is the broad swath of different ethnic origins, beliefs, dress, habits and values.
It may be an oversimplification but I think it holds up: Southerners value conformity; New Yorkers value diversity. I can ride a subway car with people wearing hajibs, cowboy hats, bindis, dark suits and hasidic hats. It makes things interesting, and while for the first few months it was slightly uncomfortable, now I find it a pleasant diversion during the day.
New York truly strives to epitomize the Founding Fathers' belief in a secular government where all religious beliefs are respected, but none are allowed to use the power of civil government to foist their beliefs on nonbelievers. In 17th Century England, you had to pay taxes to the Anglican Church, even if you were a Catholic. And if you didn't attend services (because you didn't believe) you were fined or whipped. Prior to the Revolution, Puritans passed laws in Massachusetts banning Christmas celebrations. When the Constitution was written, these abuses were recent memory, and so it was drafted with no mention of "God," and the Bill of Rights were quickly added insisting "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Sometimes the lines are difficult to draw, and our courts have done yeoman's work trying to maintain the balance. Laws banning discrimination in housing and hiring due to one's religious beliefs are part of the nation's great heritage.
Given that, and given the fact that Jews in particular suffered from incredible discrimination in both hiring and housing during the last century here, it's a bit disheartening to watch the rampant discrimination taking pace in the Hasidim sections of New York.
There have been recent cases where religious zealots have tried to force women to sit in the back of buses. And now there's a letter by a landlord insisting landlords in the Crown Heights area should stop renting to "goyim" (non-jews).
I still find it odd that the community feels the need to have its own private police and ambulance force, and I sure hope tax dollars aren't supporting any services that don't treat both jewish and non-jewish citizens.
But I'm trying to figure out how a call to landlords to discriminate against people who aren't part of your religion is any different from past calls for, well, discriminate against people who aren't part of your religion.