Yes, You Can Pray on the Subway. Sort of.


As recently sighted by Alex Aizenberg on the R train between the Atlantic and Union Street stops in Brooklyn, the above, added in magic marker to a posted sign, is an exhortation to pray on the subway. (But don’t smoke, litter, or blast your annoying boombox, please.) Also, don’t put your feet on the chairs, or you might get arrested. Don’t run, or eat, or hold the doors open, or subway surf or skylark. And, please, don’t do yoga, because that’s obnoxious. Praying, though…praying is O.K… Right?

In a recent New York Times piece exploring the 6,000 tickets (and 1,600 arrests) for minor violations like “sitting improperly on a subway seat,” NYPD Chief Spokesman Paul Browne said, “One of the reasons that crime on the subways has plummeted from almost 50 crimes a day in 1990 to only seven now is because the N.Y.P.D. enforces violations large and small, often encountering armed or wanted felons engaged in relatively minor offenses, like putting their feet up, smoking on a platform, walking or riding between cars, or fare beating,” Mr. Browne said.

So, given the sign above, we were curious: Where does prayer fall in? Is it allowed/disallowed/forbidden/encouraged? Does anyone care at all, including the person who added the note — presumably with humorous intent — to the sign above?

We asked MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz, who said, “There is no language in the rules of conduct specific to prayer,” but sent on a section of the code on use of the transit system. We’ve included pertinent portions below, and our interpretation.

Section 1050.6

Use of the transit system.

1. No person may perform any act which interferes with or may tend to interfere with the provision of transit service, obstructs or may tend to obstruct the flow of traffic on facilities or conveyances, or interferes with or may tend to interfere with the safe and efficient operation of the facilities or conveyances of the Authority.

3. Except as expressly permitted in this subdivision, no person shall engage in any nontransit uses upon any facility or conveyance. Nontransit uses are noncommercial activities that are not directly related to the use of a facility or conveyance for transportation. The following nontransit uses are permitted by the Authority, provided they do not impede transit activities and they are conducted in accordance with these rules: public speaking; campaigning; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration; artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations; solicitation for religious or political causes; solicitation for charities that: (1) have been licensed for any public solicitation within the preceding 12 months by the Commissioner of Social Services of the City of New York under section 21-111 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York or any successor provision; (2) are duly registered as charitable organizations with the Attorney General of New York under section 172 of the New York Executive Law or any successor provision; or, (3) are exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the United States Internal Revenue Code or any successor provision. Solicitors for such charities shall provide, upon request, evidence that such charity meets one of the preceding qualifications.

(1) Permitted nontransit uses may be conducted in the transit system except: (A) when on or within: a subway car; an omnibus; or, any area not generally open to the public; (B) within a distance of 25 feet of a station booth, or a fare media sales device including but not limited to a fare media vending machine; or, (C) within a distance of 50 feet from the marked entrance to an Authority office or tower. (D) The following activities are not subject to the minimum distance requirements as set forth in subparagraphs (B) and (C) of this paragraph: public speaking; leafletting or distribution of written noncommercial materials; campaigning; and, activities intended to encourage and facilitate voter registration, provided, that with respect to any of the activities described in this subparagraph, no sound production device is used and no physical obstruction, such as a table or other object, is present within a distance of 25 feet of a station booth or fare media sales device, or 50 feet from the marked entrance to an Authority office or tower.

(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, any activity in a location which interferes with the access onto or off of an escalator, stairway or elevator, or otherwise interferes with or impedes transit services or the movement of passengers, is prohibited.

(4) No activity is permitted which creates excessive noise or which emits noise that interferes with transit operations. The emission of any sound in excess of 85 dBA on the A weighted scale measured at five feet from the source of the sound or 70 dBA measured at two feet from a station booth is excessive noise and is prohibited. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, the use on subway platforms of amplification devices of any kind, electronic or otherwise, is prohibited.

(5) No person shall use media devices such as films, slides or videotapes.

(8) Any person using the transit system for nontransit activities permitted pursuant to this rule does so at his or her own risk, and the Authority assumes no liability by the grant of this authorization.

In other words, pray quietly in a way that doesn’t disturb your fellow commuters and/or the system itself, and you are golden in the eyes of the MTA. Or just cross your fingers and hope you get to work on time.

Perhaps more concerning is point 5, because, we’re pretty sure, if YouTube is any indication, more people are filming on the subway than they are praying. Hopefully the NYPD is too busy busting people who put their feet up on the chairs to notice.