Civil Rights Protection

Since 1938 the New York Bill of Rights has contained a civil rights provision which read as follows:

“No person shall, because of race, color, creed or religion, be subjected to any discrimination in his or her civil rights by any other person or by any firm, corporation, or institution, or by the state or any agency or subdivision of the state.”

This strong-seeming provision, however, is illusory.  New York courts have refused to make it enforceable.  In 1949 New York’s highest court ruled that because the provision is not self-executing[1]the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which owned the Stuyvesant Town complex of rental apartments, was entitled without violating this provision to enforce an openly declared policy of not renting to African Americans.  The provision also is too narrow.  It is limited to barring racial and religious discrimination.  Today we recognize the wrongfulness of other forms of public and private discrimination.

Needed change:  

  • Make the Civil Rights provision in our Bill of Rights enforceable and expand its scope, now limited to race and religion, to address other forms of discrimination that prevent equal opportunity for all New Yorkers.