New York, NY—American Atheists has demanded that the New York Police Department’s 77th Precinct end its practice of illegally removing vehicles from streets near the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn to provide parking to churchgoers.
In letters sent to the NYPD, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office, and the Department of Transportation, American Atheists warned that such preferential treatment toward a religious institution is unconstitutional.
American Atheists became involved after residents of Prospect Heights received a notice from the rector of the cathedral indicating that NYPD’s 77th Precinct will be closing multiple streets on May 25th and June 1st for events taking place inside the cathedral.
“As usual, we will post signs in advance to indicate where no cars will be permitted to park for those Saturdays. Please note that any vehicles remaining on the street will be relocated to a nearby street by the NYPD’s parking detail,” Rev. Harrington warned local residents.
An American Atheists Legal Center review of New York City’s administrative code and rules identified no provision allowing the NYPD to displace otherwise-legally-parked cars to accommodate vehicles owned by attendees of private indoor events. In March, a de Blasio administration official, responding to the controversy surrounding the illegal relocation of vehicles during an NYPD flag football game, reached the same conclusion. “Parking is first-come, first-served—this is New York,” said the source.
“Residents and businesses alike would undoubtedly love to be able to simply walk into their local NYPD precinct and leave with a bundle of ‘No Parking’ signs and a commitment that certain streets and intersections will be closed to traffic at times that suit them. But that’s no way to run a city,” said Geoffrey Blackwell, American Atheists’ Litigation Counsel, who sent the three letters. “By giving the Catholic Church that kind of unfair and preferential treatment, the NYPD and any other departments that might be involved are violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. We’re prepared to take action to end the practice.”
To determine the scope of this unconstitutional action and the departments implicated, American Atheists also submitted records requests to the Mayor’s Office, the NYPD, and the NYCDOT.
“The NYPD should not be at the beck and call of the Catholic Church,” said Nick Fish, the president of American Atheists. “And residents, businesses, and visitors to Prospect Heights shouldn’t see their cars banished from certain streets by the police simply because churchgoers in their neighborhood are unable or unwilling to do what everyone else must: take public transit or suffer the hell of finding convenient parking in New York.”