To be honest, what I found most interesting about this story was not the story itself, but the comments at the link above (disclaimer: I haven't read all 729 of them. Further disclaimer: I've read pretty darned close to all 729 of them...). The comments seem to divide along these four lines:
KIRYAS JOEL, N.Y. (CBS 2) – You may never see a more unusual “Welcome” sign in Orange County.
A sign in Kiryas Joel, the Hasidic Jewish enclave, is evoking mixed reaction.
Monroe resident Jessica Pantalemon stopped to cash a check in Kiryas Joel wearing a bright pink tank top and white shorts. She said she noticed scowling faces. [...]
The tradition in the village of Satmar Hasidic Jews is modesty. Even on the hottest of days, most residents cover up from head to toe. But visitors don’t necessarily follow that tradition, and now the main synagogue is asking them to comply.
Congregation Yetev Lev posted signs at the village’s entrance – in both English and Spanish – asking outsiders to cover their legs and arms, use appropriate language and maintain gender separation in public.
“It’s a way of respect,” said one resident.
In fact, most residents say it’s simply a polite reminder to respect the local culture, and many visitors take the signs in that spirit. [...]
But the sign struck a sour note with some.
“They’re telling us that we can’t come into their community unless we dress a certain way,” said Adia Parker, an Orange County resident.
1. There is no problem with the sign, which is merely a polite request to all visitors to cover themselves and maintain gender separation as the residents do. Too many Americans dress like slobs anyway, and a little modesty and respect for the local culture is not a bad thing for visitors to display. There is nothing particularly threatening or un-American about the town's choice to post its rules and standards, which don't have the force of law anyway and are thus not coercive or dangerous at all.
2. There is a huge problem with the sign, which, though worded as a polite request, displays a Taliban-like sense of oppressiveness toward those who do not follow the townsfolk's religion. Imagine if the exact same sign were posted in a Muslim, fundamentalist Christian, or Mormon town--would people shrug and talk about respecting the local culture? The sign may not have the force of law now, but the people of Kiryas Joel would probably prefer it if it did, and that shows why it is un-American and dangerous to respect such a request. Essentially, the sign tells anyone who is not a member of the Satmar Hasidic community that they are really, really not welcome unless they're willing to cover themselves in shapeless garments and walk in gender-separate groups, the women, eyes downcast, ten paces behind the men--and why should anyone who isn't a resident of the town have to do any such thing?
3. The sign falls somewhere between the problematic and the non-problematic. The sign is on private property, and is governed by the laws of free speech. The predominantly Satmar Hasidic town has the right to express what their values are, and even to request that visitors respect these values. On the other hand, visitors have the right to dress within the ordinary legal standards (e.g., obeying the actual laws of the area regarding decent covering) and to ignore the request to dress in a manner pleasing to the Satmar Hasidim. If they suffer any illegal discrimination for not being dressed or behaving as the sign suggests while visiting Kiryas Joel, however, then they should complain to the proper agency.
4. Monroe resident Jessica Pantalemon (pictured in the article) has a very nice caboose.
Okay, so nobody actually used the word "caboose," but you get the point; I include that fourth category of comments because a) there actually were many, many of those comments, and b) because one of the side-effects of doing one's banking in a tank top and very short shorts in the Internet age is that one's picture might end up on the Internet, and totally strange men might make rather creepy personal comments about the shape of one's posterior. It's something that the young, athletically fit women of one's acquaintance should be warned about (since we older, less fit women are more likely to end up being laughed at on that "people of Wal-mart" site than we are to have strangers making creepy comments about us in the highly unlikely event that we were to venture outside of our homes wearing anything even half as abbreviated as Ms. Pantalemon's chosen banking outfit).
But as for the other three summaries of the main points commenters were making (over and over again)...I don't know. I really don't. Part of my dilemma is that I got curious about the Satmar Hasidic communities, and right away in Googling about them ran into some blogs or forum posts written by women who have left those communities and who now allege abusive behavior, dysfunctional family experiences, and many other types of problems they experienced during their life inside the community--which is the same sort of thing you can find from ex-FLDS women, ex-members of fundamentalist Christian communities, and even from Muslim women who have left extremist groups. Do I know, for a fact, that women who have left Satmar Hasidic groups really were abused or mistreated? No, of course I don't. But hearing such stories makes it harder to see the sign in a totally benign light.
What do you think? Have any of you visited Kiryas Joel? Would you visit it, if you had to dress as the sign suggests and walk apart from your husband or wife?