Wednesday, August 31, 2011
This controversy hit extremely close to my home. A fight broke out yesterday at Rye Playland Park when a number of Muslim women were told by park staff members that they would not be permitted to wear their head scarves on certain rides. The park had received a number of Muslim visitors who were celebrating the end of Ramadan. A scuffle broke out after the refusal to allow some of the women to ride without removing their hijabs, and there was also some kind of report that a park employee touched one of the women.
The park has a safety policy against the wearing of any "headgear." I've been to Playland a number of times with my own family, and I've been required to take off my hat when I went on some of the faster rides.
What makes this a possible constitutional question is that Playland Park is government owned and operated. It is, in fact, the only such amusement park in the United States! But I cannot see any way in which, should a law suit be brought against Westchester County, the plaintiffs would win. This policy is clearly a law of general application, it is not targeted at any group, and it is overwhelmingly justified by serious safety concerns. The rides to which the policy applies (and those that the Muslim customers report being barred from riding) are extremely fast moving and jerky (I hate "Crazy Mouse" for this reason). Any First Amendment claim would almost surely fail. A sad episode nonetheless.
(Picture of the wonderful 1929 "Dragon Coaster" at Rye Playland Park) (x-posted CLR Forum)