Pool Rules: No Running, No Eating and, Three Times a Week, No Men
The Human Rights Commission and the parks department said the agencies had been in talks and planned to announce their decision as early as this week.
Women’s hours are held three times a week during the summer months. At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, a lifeguard’s whistle squealed. “Everybody out,” she said.
In fact, the message was just for the men. The women’s hours would begin at 10:30 a.m. (There was a half-hour break in between.) Swimming freestyle in the lane marked “Slow,” Tim Main stopped and gripped the pool ladder, peeling off his goggles. He turned to the nearest pool-goer and threw up his hands. “I hope this goes all the way to the Supreme Court,” he said before climbing out and shaking off.
“The idea of being kicked out from swimming time isn’t really the issue,” Mr. Main, 56, said later, now dry and standing on Bedford Avenue in front of the brick pool house. “It’s the creeping of religious stricture into public space.”
Behind him, inside the recreation complex, a lifeguard pulled closed the thick plastic curtains to obscure the swimmers from the lobby during the women’s hours.
“Here in New York, where we have people from so many different backgrounds, the idea of being culturally sensitive is something that everybody talks about,” said State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat who represents the heavily Hasidic area of Borough Park and has opposed ending the sessions. “You might think, ‘Wow, why should the city have to bend over to do this?’ But there is a lot of argument that this is all part of reasonable accommodation.”
But Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, took the opposite view.
“People who have a religious objection to men and women, boys and girls, swimming in the same pool at the same time have every right to their beliefs and to limit their swimming in accordance with those religious beliefs,” she said. “But they have no right to impose a regime of gender discrimination on a public pool.
“What we have here is the imposition of a religious dogma to the detriment to the rest of the city,” she added.
Gripping a yellow pool noodle, Miriam Kahn, 77, treaded water in a pink dress and a pink ruffled swimming cap on Wednesday morning. “In our religion, women don’t go to no beach, don’t go to no movies, nothing,” she said in a thick Israeli accent. “Can’t we have this something?”
Other cities have accommodated religious preferences for single-sex swimming. In Toronto, a similar program at a public pool that catered to Muslim women drew praise for offering that population a rare chance to learn to swim. There are similar programs elsewhere in the United States.
Only 45 swimmers at a time are permitted at the pool in Williamsburg. Most days, Ms. Kahn said, there is a line of women waiting their turn, including the occasional Muslim woman. On Wednesday, the lanes were full of women in calf-length, denim-colored dresses with three-quarter sleeves. The only thing that vaguely identified the outfits as seaworthy was a palm tree or a beach ball embroidered on the chest.