New law protects right to hang religious artifacts in doorways

STATE HOUSE – A new law passed by the General Assembly protects the right of tenants and condominium dwellers to hang religious artifacts in their doorways without interference from condo associations or landlords.

The law, which was the result of legislation (2015-S 348A, 2015-H 5986A) sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller and Rep. Aaron Regunberg and which Gov. Gina Raimondo ceremonially signed today, is aimed primarily at preventing condo associations and landlords from prohibiting Jewish tenants or condo owners from hanging a mezuzah on their doorways.

A mezuzah is a piece of parchment inscribed with the Jewish prayer “Shema Yisrael” in Hebrew, usually rolled up and contained in a small decorative case. The Torah instructs all Jewish people to affix a mezuzah on their doorposts, outside their door on the inside part of the doorframe.

“For observant Jews, hanging a mezuzah on the doorway is a requirement, not an option. For a condo association or a landlord to prohibit them is tantamount to housing discrimination, because it would force Jewish people to either look elsewhere for housing or violate their own religious beliefs,” said Representative Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “Restrictions about what can and can’t be hung on doors in condo complexes are supposed to be aimed at maintaining a certain aesthetic. With this law, we are making sure they’re not about keeping anyone out.”

Rhode Island joins Connecticut, Florida, Illinois and Texas among states that now prohibit associations or landlords from restricting mezuzot. Several took action after legal cases involving residents ordered to remove a mezuzah.

Although no legal cases involving mezuzot have been filed in Rhode Island, Rabbi Barry Dolinger of Congregation Beth Sholom in Providence testified during hearings on the bill that he has intervened on behalf of condo owners many times when they’ve met resistance from their condo associations about the mezuzah. The Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island sought the legislation this year to spare Jews from facing problems in the future.

“No one should face any kind of roadblock or have to fight their homeowner’s association for the right to comply with his or her religion. With this new law, we’re making sure that no Rhode Islander will be hassled for tacking a small, unobtrusive religious symbol on the side of their doorway,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence). “Hopefully, we’re also spreading awareness so those in charge of enforcing homeowner or tenant agreements will understand that the mezuzah is not a decoration but a requirement for Jewish households.”

Cosponsors of the legislation include Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) and Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence).

“This legislation allows condominium owners and dwellers living in an apartment the right to attach a religious article on the exterior of a doorway such as a mezuzah that is mandated by their faith. Prior to this legislation, a condominium association could prohibit such articles to be displayed if so written in their bylaws. The same was true with apartment property management,” said Marty Cooper, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.

In photo: Front, from left: Sen. Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence), Sen. Gayle Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence), Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, Rep. Mia A. Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln). Back row, from left: Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence), Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island Community Relations Council Director Marty Cooper, Jewish community leader Mel Alperin and Rabbi Barry Dolinger at the bill signing ceremony.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2457