Ending a long-running dispute with the Town of Oyster Bay, N.Y., under the terms of a federal Consent Order, S&A client Guru Gobind Singh Center will be permitted to complete contruction of its new Temple, shortly after its lawsuit was filed against the Town asserting violations of RLUIPA and the Constitution:
Construction is expected to continue on a partially completed Sikh temple in New York after its congregation sued a Long Island town in June for halting work, according to an agreement the two sides reached this week. The town and the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center also agreed that the town board should no longer be authorized to serve as the oversight committee for the site plan approval process, according to the settlement in U.S. District Court in New York's Eastern District.
"After meeting with both residents and congregants over the past few months to resolve this issue, with the ultimate goal here being that the temple would be built in a fair manner consistent with local, state, and federal laws, I believe this settlement represents the best outcome that could have possibly been hoped for by all parties involved," town Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia told NBC News in an email.
C. Fuchs, "Sikh Congregation, Town Settle Lawsuit over Stopped Temple Construction," NBC News (Nov. 17, 2016)
Construction of a Sikh temple in Plainview is expected to resume after the Oyster Bay town board votes Tuesday on a settlement in a civil rights lawsuit. The Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center in Plainview sued the town in June after the board and Town Supervisor John Venditto issued an executive order in February to halt construction and take over oversight from the planning and development department.
The settlement would end the lawsuit filed in U.S. Eastern District Court that alleged the town had violated the congregation’s religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
T. Philips, "Construction of Sikh temple in Plainview expected to resume," Newsday (Nov. 14, 2016).
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York entered the Consent Order on November 23, 2016. read more »
Congregation Kollel, Inc. v. Township of Howell, N.J.
11/21/2016: Asbury Park Press reports on S&A lawsuit on behalf of Orthodox Jewish school against Howell, N.J.
A discrimination lawsuit filed against Howell Township by an Orthodox Jewish group seeking to build a religious school with dormitories is on hold while a federal judge determines whether to allow the case to proceed. The dispute concerns whether Howell’s zoning officer and zoning board improperly rejected an application for an educational facility at 344 Old Ford Road, according to the May 5 lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey. The lawsuit alleges the denial was “motivated by hostility toward ultra-Orthodox Jews.”
K. Kachmar, "Orthodox group presses Howell over religious school denial," Asbury Park Press (Nov. 21, 2016) read more »
Bensalem Masjid v. Bensalem Township, PA
11/15/2016: Media reports on favorable court decision in the Bensalem Masjid's lawsuit against Bensalem Township, Pa.
A Muslim group claiming that Bensalem Township impeded on its religious liberty by denying the group permission to build a mosque can move forward with its lawsuit against the township.
P.J. D'Annunzio, "Pa. Township Loses Bid to Stop Mosque-Building Case," The Legal Intelligencer (Nov. 15, 2016). The U.S. Department of Justice's Complaint is available here.
This summer, the Department of Justice filed a religious land-use discrimination suit against Bensalem Township after township officials turned down a mosque's application for a zoning variance. This week, a judge tossed out the township's request to have the case dismissed. "We believe the facts support our view of the case, and a judge has rejected their arguments twice," said Roman Storzer, a lawyer for Bensalem Masjid who represented the group in an earlier and ongoing civil suit.
L. Benshoff, "Fight continues over construction of mosque in Bensalem," Newsworks (Nov. 17, 2016).
The Department of Justice lawsuit against Bensalem Township over the construction of a mosque is moving forward after a federal judge refused to toss the case. In a 12 page opinion, District Judge Michael M. Baylson ruled that the DOJ alleged enough to take the case one step closer to trial. “The township is certainly disappointed, said solicitor Joseph Pizzo, “but the denial of the motion to dismiss is not totally unexpected.”
C. Gregg, "Discrimination Suit Against Bucks County Town Over Construction Of Mosque Moves Forward," CBS Philly (Nov. 16, 2016). The court rejected the Township's arguments that the Masjid had to seek rezoning of its property, holding:
The cases that Defendant cites involve plaintiffs that show a refusal to engage with the administrative process, and then go on to bring a RLUIPA challenge. That is not what happened here. According to the United States’ Complaint, the Bensalem Masjid fully engaged with the administrative process to obtain zoning relief and build their mosque, undergoing extensive questioning at several rounds of administrative hearings. Further, the United States alleges that seeking a use variance was a proper procedure for obtaining relief under the Bensalem Code, and that the Bensalem Masjid was told to use that procedure after discussions with Township officials.
The court's decision is available at 2016 WL 6695511. read more »
Valley Chabad v. Borough of Woodcliff Lake, N.J.
11/09/2016: Valley Chabad files suit challenging Woodcliff Lake, N.J. zoning and denial of variances
On November 1, 2016, the Valley Chabad, represented by Storzer & Associates, filed suit against the Borough of Woodcliff Lake and its Zoning Board of Adjustment challenging their zoning scheme regulating places of worship and the denial of the Chabad's variance to use its property as a location for its small congregation.
In the lawsuit filed on Nov. 1, Rabbi Dov Drizin, executive director of Valley Chabad, argues that their civil rights were violated as a result of the defendants' "burdensome, discriminatory and unreasonable land use regulations and intentional conduct," which have prohibited the congregation from constructing their proposed house of worship in the borough. As a "prayer for relief," Valley Chabad has many requests, among them, an order directing the zoning board to revise their denial of the application and grant the congregation its many variances and waivers to construct its house of worship on the said property, as well as compensatory damages and attorney's fees.
L. Abrizio, "Valley Chabad files lawsuit against Woodcliff Lake Zoning Board," North Jersey.com, USA Today, (Nov. 9, 2016)
Working exhaustively with local officials, the Chabad’s application took 628 days and 18 public hearings — 508 days longer than the permitted period for hearing variances, the press release says.
Nonetheless, the application was rejected.
C. Levine, "Valley Chabad Sues Woodcliff Lake Alleging Abuse, Civil Rights Violations," Garfield-Lodi, Daily Voice (Nov. 11, 2016)
Valley Chabad, in its court filing, claims the organization was consistently discriminated against in its pursuit of a property of sufficient size for the construction of a house of worship and related parking since 2006. That year, Valley Chabad sought to buy the “Hathaway property” at 75 Werimus Road and the lawsuit claims the borough later sought to acquire the property as open space for recreational purposes.
It’s a pattern Valley Chabad claims was repeated again in 2013 after it sought to buy the Galaxy Gardens property, only for the governing body to begin efforts to acquire the property for open space in a controversial multi-year effort that was bolstered earlier this year when the borough received a $500,000 Bergen County Open Space Trust Fund grant to use toward the purchase.
T. Clancy, "Valley Chabad's federal lawsuit seeks to overturn Woodcliff Lake board's denial," Pascack Press (Nov. 11, 2016)
An orthodox Jewish organization has filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey town alleging its rejection of the group’s efforts to construct a house of worship was driven by a “consistent campaign of bias,” in violation of religious land use and discrimination laws.
J. O'Sullivan, "Bias Thwarted NJ Temple Plans, Lawsuit Says," Law360 (Nov. 2, 2016) read more »
A federal judge allowed a Jewish boarding school to be sited in a residential neighborhood in Ocean Township after concluding the town's refusal was a violation of the yeshiva's religious rights. [The court] said Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov "is deemed an inherently beneficial use" and that the Ocean Township board of adjustment's denial of an application for a use variance and a site plan is a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, Agudath Israel's New Jersey director, said, "This decision makes a statement that the religious liberties of institutions and individuals will be defended even in the face of opposition. It also sends a clear message that our religious rights will not be trampled upon and we hope this will serve as an example to other municipalities." Rabbi Schnall continued "Agudath Israel is proud to have worked together with the Yeshiva and its attorney and is delighted with this positive outcome.
A subtext of the opposition to the project was the fear that Ocean Township could become, as some have said, “another Lakewood.” Under RLUIPA, however, such fears can’t be the basis for zoning decisions, said Perry Dane, a Rutgers constitutional law expert who specializes in religious issues. The law requires local communities to have a “compelling interest” to justifying barring a particular religious group from coming into a town, and all groups are to be treated equally, he said. “Yes, there are powerful protections (in the law), but they are necessary ones,” Dane said.
S. Mullen, "Ruling allows Ocean Twp. yeshiva, dorm," Asbury Park Press (Aug. 26, 2016)
12/07/2016: Wall Street Journal reports on S&A Connecticut case
The Wall Street Journal reports on the United States Department of Justice's involvement in two RLUIPA cases, including that of S&A client Al Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk: "In Connecticut, the Al Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk filed a federal discrimination suit in 2012 after its application to build a mosque was rejected by city officials. Federal officials opened an investigation, and the two sides settled in 2014." K. King, "Federal Government Joins New Jersey Muslims in Fight Over Mosque Approval," The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 7, 2016). read more »
07/22/2016: S&A invited to White House event "Combating Religious Discrimination Today"
From March to June 2016, the Civil Rights Division, in partnership with U.S. Attorneys and other Federal agencies, hosted five community roundtables across the country that focused on these issues. Additionally, the Justice Department held two roundtables in Washington, D.C., for representatives of national religious and civil rights organizations to review themes and proposals raised in the roundtables and make further recommendations
At a White House event today, the Justice Department released a report on these roundtables. In addition to the report, the Justice Department and other federal agencies announced new steps they are taking to combat religious discrimination.
"Combating Religious Discrimination Today," White House Blog (July 22, 2016)
See the Department of Justice's "Final Report" on this initiative, which lists this Firm as a "Community Member Participant."
C. Crowe, "Administration announces new plans to fight religious discrimination," Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (Aug. 17, 2016) read more »
07/21/2016: United States Justice Department's August 2016 "Religious Freedom in Focus" discusses lawsuit against Bensalem Twp, Pa.
“Our Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to build places of worship free from unlawful interference and unnecessary barriers,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said on the day the suit was filed. “The Department of Justice will continue to challenge unjustified local zoning actions around the country when they encroach upon this important civil right.”
"Religious Freedom in Focus, Volume 67" (August 2016). More information about the Bensalem Masjid's lawsuit against the Township is available here. read more »
06/30/2016: NJ.com RLUIPA article highlights four S&A clients
In New Jersey, the law came into play in recent years in Wayne and Bridgewater, both of which denied applications to build mosques. In both cases, the Muslim applicants prevailed. . . . RLUIPA now is being invoked by the Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River, which in March sued the township and its zoning board of adjustment for blocking a religious center in a home where it had been operating since 2011. Congregation Kollel in May also cited the law in a suit against the Howell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment, which, it said, was motivated by negative views of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. And supporters of a Jewish boarding school in January sued Ocean Township and its Zoning Board of Adjustment, again citing the law, after its application was denied last year.
T. Darragh, "Fighting for faith: Who has final say when towns deny places of worship," NJ.com (June 30, 2016)
More information on the Albanian Associated Fund, Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River, Congregation Kollel, and the Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov in Ocean Township is available here. read more »
05/06/2016: Baltimore Jewish Times features S&A client Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue's efforts to build in Baltimore County
Belinsky, the spiritual leader of the Ariel Jewish Center and Synagogue, a Chabad-Lubavitch congregation for Russian Jews, wants to build a permanent home for his synagogue on a 3-acre plot in Pikesville. . . .
The state court system might not be the next stop for this issue if Belinsky were to file a federal suit under [RLUIPA], which allows synagogues to be built in residential areas as a right protects religious institutions in a number of ways. As a federal statute, it trumps local zoning code. Roman Storzer, a top RLUIPA attorney who Belinsky recently retained, said[:] "In general, a government cannot burden religious exercise unless it uses the least restrictive means of [achieving a] compelling governmental interest . . . . Normal zoning rules don't apply." As far as traffic and other safety issues are concerned, Storzer said: "It's been my long experience that these types of justifications have often been used to oppose uses where they really have no merit. . . . There has to be demonstrated evidence that there is some real threat, not simply a hypothetical or speculative threat, . . .."
M. Shapiro, "Chabad Synagogue Battle Reminiscent of Cases Around State, Country," Baltimore Jewish Times (May 6, 2016) read more »