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Representative Matters

AL MADANY ISLAMIC CENTER OF NORWALK, INC. V. CITY OF NORWALK, CONN. ALBANIAN ASSOCIATED FUND V. TOWNSHIP OF WAYNE, N.J. AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE V. PRISON FELLOWSHIP MINISTRIES BENSALEM MASJID V. BENSALEM TOWNSHIP, PA BERKOWITZ V. EAST RAMAPO CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT, N.Y. BETHEL WORLD OUTREACH MINISTRIES V. MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MD. BIKUR CHOLIM, INC. V. VILLAGE OF SUFFERN, N.Y. BUDDHIST EDUCATION CENTER OF AMERICA, INC., V. CITY OF VIRGINIA BEACH, VA. CHABAD JEWISH CENTER OF TOMS RIVER V. TOWNSHIP OF TOMS RIVER, N.J. CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CHAPEL WESLEYAN CHURCH V. TOWNSHIP OF HILLSBOROUGH CONAWAY V. DEANE CONGREGATION HEICHEL DOVID CONGREGATION KOLLEL, INC. V. TOWNSHIP OF HOWELL, N.J. CONGREGATION MISCHKNOIS LAVIER YAKOV V. BOARD OF TRUSTEES FOR THE VILLAGE OF AIRMONT, N.Y. CONGREGATION RABBINICAL COLLEGE OF TARTIKOV V. VILLAGE OF POMONA, N.Y. COPTIC ORTHODOX CHURCH ARCHDIOCESE OF NORTH AMERICA V. ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT OF TOWNSHIP OF CEDAR GROVE, N.J. DAYALBAGH RADHASOAMI SATSANG ASSOCIATION OF NORTH AMERICA V. TOWNSHIP OF OLD BRIDGE, N.J. EAGLE COVE CAMP & CONFERENCE CENTER V. TOWN OF WOODBORO, WISC. FAITH TEMPLE CHURCH V. TOWN OF BRIGHTON, N.Y. FIRST PENTECOSTAL UNITED HOLY CHURCH V. CITY OF CHESAPEAKE, VIRGINIA FISHERMEN OF MEN CHURCH, APPLICATION OF, D.C. GREAT LAKES SOCIETY V. GEORGETOWN TOWNSHIP, MICH. GREENWICH REFORM SYNAGOGUE V. TOWN OF GREENWICH, CONN. GURU GOBIND SINGH SIKH CENTER V. TOWN OF OYSTER BAY, N.Y. HARBOR MISSIONARY CHURCH V. CITY OF SAN BUENAVENTURA, CAL. HINDU TEMPLE AND CULTURAL SOCIETY OF USA V. BRIDGEWATER TOWNSHIP, N.J. MOXLEY V. TOWN OF WALKERSVILLE, MD. NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR AMISH RELIGIOUS FREEDOM NAVAJO NATION V. UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE NEW BEGINNINGS CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP V. TOWNSHIP OF BRICK PARAMESWARAN V. MYSOREKAR RIVERDALE BAPTIST CHURCH V. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD. ROCKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTIAN CHURCH V. BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF BOULDER COUNTY SAHANSRA V. WESTCHESTER COUNTY HEALTH CARE CORPORATION SPIRIT OF ALOHA TEMPLE V. COUNTY OF MAUI ST. JOHN UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST V. INDIANAPOLIS HISTORIC PRESERVATION COMMISSION, IND. ST. JOHN´S UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST V. CITY OF CHICAGO THAI MEDITATION ASSOCIATION OF ALABAMA V. CITY OF MOBILE PLANNING COMMISSION THIRD CHURCH OF CHRIST, SCIENTIST V. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA HISTORIC PRESERVATION REVIEW BOARD TROTMAN V. BEN GILMAN SPRING VALLEY MEDICAL AND DENTAL CLINIC VALLEY CHABAD V. BOROUGH OF WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. YESHIVA GEDOLA NA'OS YAAKOV V. OCEAN TWP., N.J.

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).

11/23/2016: Victory in Sikh temple RLUIPA suit in Oyster Bay, N.Y.

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. 

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)

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.

 

 

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)

08/26/2016: S&A client Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov successful in federal court action

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.

"Federal court says yeshiva can be in residential neighborhood," NJ.com (Aug. 26, 2016)
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.
"Agudath Israel Hails Federal Court Ruling That Denial of Variances for Yeshiva Violates RLUIPA," Agudath Israel (Aug. 26, 2016)

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)

08/07/2016: New York Times reports on Bensalem Masjid's RLUIPA suit

For nearly 10 months, a Muslim congregation in the Philadelphia suburb of Bensalem, Pa., pleaded with township officials to allow the construction of a mosque, paying for expensive traffic studies, repeatedly explaining Islamic practices, revising and re-revising design plans, and then receiving the final word: No.  Then last month, the Justice Department stepped in, charging that the Bensalem Township zoning hearing board had violated federal religious land-use laws by denying the congregation’s application after it had granted zoning exemptions for other religious construction projects. . . .

[W]hen the Bensalem Masjid congregation applied for the same type of variance, it did not get one. The congregation’s request was officially denied because zoning hearing board members said they thought the mosque should ask for the property to be officially rezoned — a long, difficult process that other religious groups had not been asked to undertake. Along the way, the board members pressed for traffic studies and demanded more parking spots in the congregation’s plans. The official complaint against the township charges that such concerns were veiled discrimination.

“They were scrutinized much more rigorously,” said Roman Storzer, a lawyer representing the Bensalem Masjid. “Then they were denied, and denied in a way that all other houses of worship had been approved.”

K. Shepherd, "Township Saw a Zoning Issue. The Justice Dept. Saw Religious Discrimination," New York Times (Aug. 7, 2016)

The U.S. Justice Department also recently filed suit against Bensalem Township:

Bensalem Township has temples, synagogues, and churches, but in 2014 Bucks County's largest municipality declined to grant a permit for a mosque. That, said the U.S. Justice Department in a suit filed Thursday, constituted religious discrimination.  The suit seeks to have the township give the Bensalem Masjid approval to build the mosque, provide training for township employees regarding religious land-use laws, and pay unspecified damages. The Bensalem Masjid has been embroiled in litigation with the township since 2014. It first began looking for a place to build a mosque in 2008.  The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, "demonstrates the seriousness of the problem in Bensalem Township," said Roman Storzer, the Masjid's lead attorney in a federal lawsuit filed against the township.

J. McDaniel, "Justice Department: Bensalem discriminates against Muslims," Philadelphia Inquirer (July 22, 2016).

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)

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.

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.

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)

10/01/2016: Coptic Orthodox Church files suit against Cedar Grove

On September 30, 2016, the Coptic Orthodox Church Archdiocese of North America filed suit against the Township of Cedar Grove, N.J., challenging the denial of its variance application to replace an aging, inadequate church building with a place of worship that meets its religious needs.

According to the complaint, “The Church has suffered from overcrowding; an inability to provide sufficient religious education, weddings and funerals, and other activities; and most of the seats in the structure do not even have a direct view of the altar and are forced to watch on closed-circuit televisions. Furthermore, the current building, which looks like an office building, falls far short from meeting the requirements of a Coptic Orthodox church.”

“There is no question that forcing the Church to retain its inadequate structure and preventing it from engaging in important religious practices—as well as forbidding it from displaying to the world its Coptic Orthodox faith through religious architecture—substantially burdens its religious exercise. The Board has chosen to deny the application for no good reason,” stated Robert L. Greene [of Storzer & Associates], counsel for the Church.  “This is a violation of important constitutional freedoms we all enjoy under the First Amendment, and as protected by RLUIPA.”

See "Coptic Orthodox Church Files Suit Against Cedar Grove Township and Zoning Board" (Oct. 1, 2016)

08/02/2016: Hamodia reports on S&A cases

“This is bigotry masked as a zoning hearing, pure and simple,” said Roman P. Storzer, attorney for the yeshivah, in advance of the proceedings. “The situation that the yeshivah has faced here is exactly why Congress decided that RLUIPA’s protections are necessary.” . . . “It’s a sad state of affairs that these local jurisdictions try to erect walls around Lakewood through land-use laws.”

Rabbi Moshe Gourarie of Toms River is engaged in litigation for his town’s insistence on a variance to operate the Chabad house he has led for over a decade. He, too, is represented by Mr. Storzer’s firm, which specializes in religious land-use cases. There, Mr. Storzer said that facts around the events made it difficult to attribute opposition to the concerns of noise pollution and traffic that have been cited.  “[A] few weeks ago he had a swastika painted on his driveway. It’s hard to say that that hostility has a secular basis.”

M. WIncorn, "NJ Yeshivah Fights Zoning Denial in Federal Court," Hamodia (Aug. 2, 2016)

08/02/2016: New York Law Journal reports on Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center lawsuit

New York Law Journal reports on S&A client's civil rights action against the Town of Oyster Bay, N.Y. for preventing completion of Sikh temple:

Storzer, whose firm has taken on dozens of religious land use cases, explained the interpretation of RLUIPA by some municipalities.  "Some zoning boards will take their obligation to follow the law very seriously," he said. "They include that in their considerations, . . . .  Then there are zoning boards that absolutely ignore it."

S. Betancourt, "Long Island Sikh Temple Files Federal Religious Freedom Suit," New York Law Journal (Aug. 2, 2016)

"Members of Plainview Sikh center claim civil rights violated; sue Town of Oyster Bay," News12 Long Island (June 30, 2016)

Roman Storzer, co-counsel for the Temple said: “I’ve never seen a violation of RLUIPA as blatant as this.” “To process the Temple’s applications, accept their fees, approve the building, allow them to spend enormous sums for construction, and then to prevent its completion, is as significant a burden on constitutionally protected religious worship as I’ve ever seen.”

"Sikh temple files federal lawsuit against Town of Oyster Bay, NY," Indian Panorama (July 10, 2016)

A Sikh congregation is suing a Long Island town for halting construction on its new temple, arguing that officials did so to allegedly appease some residents who were "hostile towards the temple and its religious worship."

C. Fuchs, "Sikh Congregation Sues Town After Temple Construction Halted," NBC News (Aug. 4, 2016)

07/26/2016: Buddhist Meditation Center Files Suit Against the City of Mobile

The Thai Meditation Association of Alabama filed suit in federal court against the City of Mobile, Alabama, its City Council and Planning Commission, challenging the denial of planning approval for a small Buddhist meditation center on a 6.7 acre property that is zoned to permit religious uses.

The Complaint describes the substantial hostility faced by the Center from local residents during the zoning proceedings on the Center’s planning approval applications. It states that City officials treated Buddhist worship activity, which includes meditation, chanting, Buddhist lectures and alms offering ceremonies, differently and worse than other forms of worship that are accepted by the City.

“This is exactly the kind of discrimination against new or unfamiliar faiths that motivated Congress to enact RLUIPA,” said Roman P. Storzer, attorney for the Center. “The Center played by the rules, but the City moved the goalposts. There is no good reason why a small Buddhist meditation center cannot exist harmoniously at this location.”

Media Release (July 26, 2016)

"The focus here is [the City] questioning what this Buddhist group does as religious or not," said Storzer. "It's clearly part of their religious traditions. . . . [T]hey are entitled to the same protections as anyone else."

J. Sharp, "Meditation center complaint alleges constitutional violations by Mobile officials," AL.com (July 26, 2016)

07/22/2016: United States Department of Justice files lawsuit against Bensalem Township

S&A previously filed suit against the Township in 2014, challenging Bensalem's zoning scheme regulating religious institutions and the denial of its client's mosque application.

Bensalem Township has temples, synagogues, and churches, but in 2014 Bucks County's largest municipality declined to grant a permit for a mosque. That, said the U.S. Justice Department in a suit filed Thursday, constituted religious discrimination.  The suit seeks to have the township give the Bensalem Masjid approval to build the mosque, provide training for township employees regarding religious land-use laws, and pay unspecified damages. The Bensalem Masjid has been embroiled in litigation with the township since 2014. It first began looking for a place to build a mosque in 2008.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, "demonstrates the seriousness of the problem in Bensalem Township," said Roman Storzer, the Masjid's lead attorney in a federal lawsuit filed against the township.

J. McDaniel, "Justice Department: Bensalem discriminates against Muslims," Philadelphia Inquirer (July 22, 2016).

“Our Constitution protects the rights of religious communities to build places of worship free from unlawful interference and unnecessary barriers,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “The Department of Justice will continue to challenge unjustified local zoning actions around the country when they encroach upon this important civil right.”

"Justice Department Files Suit Against Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, Over Denial of Zoning Approval for Mosque," Press Release, United States Department of Justice (July 21, 2016).

J. Gershman, "Obama Administration Sues Pennsylvania Town for Rejecting Mosque Plan," Wall Street Journal (July 22, 2016).

Read the DOJ's Complaint here.

07/07/2016: Agudath Israel of America asks court to consider amicus brief supporting S&A client Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov

In a federal lawsuit pitting a major yeshiva against a local zoning board, Agudath Israel of America is contending that the board’s refusal to grant the yeshiva certain zoning variances necessary for the yeshiva to operate is motivated by a political cave-in to anti-charedi bias.

Elements within the community mounted virulent resistance to the application, organizing an effort around the theme, clearly meant to impart a message beyond this specific application, that the yeshiva should “Stay in Lakewood.” The Zoning Board, apparently sympathetic to that sentiment, dragged out the variance application process for well over a year, ultimately denying the application on nebulous grounds. The grounds for denial were cited as “noise,” “safety,” and the vague claim that use of the three-acre parcel for a yeshiva would be more “intense” than as a single family residence. There was ample evidence, however, that the true motivation for the variance denial was a desire to mollify the anti-chareidi elements who waged a campaign on social media and packed every public meeting in their efforts to keep the yeshiva community out of Ocean Township.

The proposed Agudath Israel brief was written by attorney Ronald D. Coleman, a partner in the firm Archer & Greiner, P.C., and argues that the Township’s denial of a variance constitutes a violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA.

"Agudath Israel to NJ Federal Court: Ocean Township Zoning Board Violates Yeshiva’s Rights" (July 8, 2016)

Elements within the community, however, mounted virulent resistance to the application, organizing an effort around the theme, clearly meant to impart a message beyond this specific application, that the yeshiva should “Stay in Lakewood.” The Zoning Board, apparently sympathetic to that sentiment, dragged out the variance application process for well over a year, ultimately denying the application on nebulous grounds. The grounds for denial were cited as “noise,” “safety,” and the vague claim that use of the three-acre parcel for a yeshiva would be more “intense” than as a single family residence. There was ample evidence, however, that the true motivation for the variance denial was a desire to mollify the anti-chareidi elements who waged a campaign on social media and packed every public meeting in their efforts to keep the yeshiva community out of Ocean Township. - See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/439230/agudath-israel-to-nj-federal-court-ocean-township-zoning-board-violates-yeshivas-rights.html#sthash.Zxmd29m7.dpufddd
Elements within the community, however, mounted virulent resistance to the application, organizing an effort around the theme, clearly meant to impart a message beyond this specific application, that the yeshiva should “Stay in Lakewood.” The Zoning Board, apparently sympathetic to that sentiment, dragged out the variance application process for well over a year, ultimately denying the application on nebulous grounds. The grounds for denial were cited as “noise,” “safety,” and the vague claim that use of the three-acre parcel for a yeshiva would be more “intense” than as a single family residence. There was ample evidence, however, that the true motivation for the variance denial was a desire to mollify the anti-chareidi elements who waged a campaign on social media and packed every public meeting in their efforts to keep the yeshiva community out of Ocean Township. - See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/439230/agudath-israel-to-nj-federal-court-ocean-township-zoning-board-violates-yeshivas-rights.html#sthash.Zxmd29m7.dpusdd

06/30/2016: Newsday reports on S&A client Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center's lawsuit filed against the Town of Oyster Bay, N.Y.

A Plainview Sikh congregation filed a federal lawsuit against Oyster Bay on Wednesday alleging that its civil rights were violated when the town board halted construction on its temple in February. The civil suit, filed in U.S. Eastern District Court, alleges that the town government imposed “burdensome, discriminatory, and unreasonable land use regulations” when it stopped the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center from finishing the project.

T. Phillips, "Plainview Sikh congregation sues Oyster Bay over construction," Newsday (June 30, 2016)

"Members of Plainview Sikh center claim civil rights violated; sue Town of Oyster Bay," News12 Long Island (June 30, 2016)

The Center is represented by S&A and the New York law firm of Savad Churgin, LLP.

 

 

06/01/2016: Federal court rules that "community character" does not satisfy RLUIPA's compelling interest standard, also awards attorneys fees to plaintiff for spoliation

In rejecting the Village of Pomona, N.Y.'s argument  that "community character" was a compelling interest sufficient to survive strict scrutiny review under the Free Exercise Clause and RLUIPA in Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov's challenge to various laws passed by the Village, the court noted that:

Defendants cite not a single case providing a definition of "community character" that incorporates the elements outlined by Defendants, let alone any decision from the Supreme Court or the Second Circuit holding that such "community character" is a compelling interest sufficient to survive strict scrutiny. . . .  Indeed, the amorphous nature of "community character" leaves open the argument that this alleged interest could be "a pretext for racial discrimination; more subtly, a community's self-definition may be influenced by social or economic stereotypes . . . ."

Congregation Rabbinical Coll. of Tartikov, Inc. v. Vill. of Pomona, No. 07-CV-6304, slip op. (S.D.N.Y. May 25, 2016) 

In another decision issued on the same day, the court also awarded attorneys' fees to the plaintiffs:

The village must fork over $43,040 in legal fees to Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov as part of a 12-year-old unresolved legal fight over the yeshiva's plans to build a dormitory school in the community.  [The court] recently penalized the village after finding Mayor Brett Yagel and former Trustee Rita Louie had destroyed evidence in the lawsuit.

S. Lieberman, "Judge: Pomona must pay Tartikov $43K in legal fees for erased evidence," The Journal News (June 1, 2016)

J. Stashenko, "Village Directed to Pay $42,940 for Spoliation," New York Law Journal (June 2, 2016)

Congregation Rabbinical Coll. of Tartikov, Inc. v. Vill. of Pomona, No. 07-CV-6304, 2016 WL 3030253 (S.D.N.Y. May 25, 2016)

05/26/2016: U.S. Department of Justice investigates Toms River's zoning regulations, treatment of S&A client Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River

TOMS RIVER - The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Toms River's zoning laws affecting religious land uses, including the Board of Adjustment's requirement that a rabbi obtain a use variance to continue operating his Church Road home as a house of worship.

"Our investigation will focus on the Township's zoning laws affecting religious land uses," Sameena Shina Majeed, acting chief of the Justice Department's Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, wrote in an April 28 letter to Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher. "We are also reviewing, as part of our investigation, the Township's requirement that Rabbi Moshe Gourarie obtain a use variance in order to engage in religious worship and educational activities at 2001 Church Road."

. . . .

"Substantial community opposition to both the Chabad's use and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in general, has targeted the Chabad," according to lawyer Roman P. Storzer, of Storzer & Greene in New York and Washington, D.C., who represents the Chabad.

J. Mikle, "Feds investigate Toms River's zoning laws," Asbury Park Press (May 26, 2016)

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Toms River's zoning laws with regard to religious uses in the wake of the Board of Adjustment's decision to require a use variance for the Chabad Jewish Center, according to a report. . . .

"Despite its negligible land use effect on the local community and its existence at this location and another residential home in Toms River for 12 years without any negative impacts, substantial community opposition to both the Chabad’s use and to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in general, has targeted the Chabad," attorney Roman Storzer, of Storzer & Greene of New York, said, noting the Chabad, at 2001 Church Road, is adjacent to an American Legion Post, a church, and Ocean County College. . . .

A March Bloomberg article last week quoting Kelaher as referring to ultra-Orthodox Jews moving into Toms River as an “invasion” -- which Kelaher said was not his opinion but a recitation of testimony in connection with the real estate soliciting ban -- and incidents of graffiti including the carving of the words “Burn the Jews” into playground equipment at Riverwood Park have only heightened the tensions.

K. Wall, "Justice Department Investigating Toms River Over Zoning, Chabad Denial: Report," Toms River Patch (May 26, 2016)

05/11/2016: S&A client Christian Community Chapel settles RLUIPA case with Hillsborough Township; Church will convert barn into a new house of worship

The Christian Community Chapel and the township have reached a settlement on a lawsuit filed in January challenging the denial of an application to convert an old barn into a new house of worship, said the church's pastor. . . .  Nash said the settlement stipulates that the township will grant all four use variances needed for approval, including the use of the property for a parsonage and sanctuary, the height of a silo to be 45 feet instead of the 35-foot maximum,  a setback variance for one of the barns and impervious coverage. . . . In its lawsuit, the Christian Community Chapel alleged its right to the free exercise of religion had been violated in the denial of its application by the board of adjustment.

D. Hutchinson, "N.J. town, church settle federal lawsuit on church plan," NJ Advance Media (May 11, 2016)

05/02/2016: S&A files suit on behalf of Jewish congregation against Howell Township for rejecting educationality facility based on its religious curriculum

An Orthodox Jewish congregation has filed a federal lawsuit against Howell Township and its zoning board of adjustment, saying the township's denial of its plan to build a religious education center was motivated by religious "hostility." . . . .

Howell Township Council in May of that year revised land-use requirements that "severely restricted" where schools could be located — a move motivated by "animus toward ultra-Orthodox Jews," it says. Among other things, it says, the revamped ordinance required new schools to provide New Jersey Department of Education-approved curricula, which the religious school could not. Then, in Jauary 2016, the township removed "educational facilities" from the zoning classification that covered the Ford Road property "specifically to target Orthodox Jews in general and the plaintiffs in particular," the lawsuit says.

T. Darragh, "Orthodox congregation sues township over zoning denial," NJ Advance Media (May 4, 2016)

04/12/2016: Ocean Township hearings continue in Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov application

On March 17, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ordered two additional hearings with several time and procedure stipulations after attorneys representing Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov filed suit against the Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Ocean Township Council on Jan. 8 after the board rejected the application in December.

Under township ordinances, post-secondary religious schools are prohibited throughout the entire town. . . .  “Unfortunately, this matter has become more than a zoning matter,” [Board attorney Mark Steinberg] said. “The applicant is seeking a substantial damage reward, as well as attorney fees and costs, which will also be substantial if the applicant is successful.” Steinberg said under most appealed zoning board rejections, the board is presumed correct, but with a challenge involving RLUIPA that is no longer the case.

K. Walter, "Yeshiva hearing continues in Ocean Township," Atlanticville News (Apr. 12, 2016)

04/04/2016: News reports on Ocean Township yeshiva lawsuit

The March 17 order by the federal court for the District of New Jersey resulted from litigation brought by Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov against Ocean and its zoning board of adjustment, claiming they had violated the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution, as well as the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and Fair Housing Act, by placing an undue burden on the yeshiva. Because the board allowed hearings on the yeshiva’s use variance to go on for 511 days, exceeding the state maximum requirement of 120 days, Judge Freda L. Wolfson ordered hearings be held April 5 and 25, when another vote must be taken on the yeshiva’s application. The meetings will be held at Ocean Township High School in Oakhurst at 7 p.m. and will run no later than midnight.

The court also placed additional restrictions on the hearings, including that the zoning board be prohibited from presenting testimony from professional witnesses, that the attorney representing several opposing residents be limited to no more than three professional witnesses, and that no unrepresented member of the public be allowed to cross-examine witnesses. In addition, the court is requiring that testimony from unrepresented members of the public will be limited to no more than five minutes each and total no more than two hours over the course of the two meetings. Residents living within 200 feet of the property will be given first priority to speak.

Storzer said he “was hopeful the zoning board would do the right thing,” but left open the option of returning to federal court should it again be denied.

D. Rubin, "Yeshiva dorm denial overturned by court," New Jersey Jewish News (Apr. 4, 2016)

"The federal legislation supersedes the municipal land use laws," [Board Attorney] Steinberg told a hundred or more people in attendance. "The applicant had the burden to prove an inherently beneficial use outweighs the detriment. This decision reverses that. . . ."

D. Radel, "Crowd, opposition greet Yeshiva group," Asbury Park Press (Apr. 7, 2016)

03/22/2016: Chabad center files suit against Toms River, N.J.

On March 22, 2016, the Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River and Rabbi Moshe Gourarie filed a federal lawsuit against the Township of Toms River and its Zoning Board of Adjustment, challenging the Township's laws and actions prohibiting the continued Chabad's use of their property as a clergy residence.  The Chabad had been using their current property and a prior residence as a clergy residence--which included small gatherings of approximately 15 people for weekly prayer services and other infrequent and small religious gatherings--for twelve years without any negative impacts on the community.  The federal Complaint states:

[T]he Township and Board have prohibited the Plaintiffs’ use of the Property as a clergy residence, which involves the single-family residence of Rabbi Gourarie and his family, small weekly prayer services of 10-15 people, Hebrew study for five children for two hours per week, and sporadic other small religious gatherings. The Chabad’s property is located directly adjacent to an American Legion hall, a Christian church, and a large college. . . .

These recent actions to shut down the Chabad took place during a rising tide of anti-Semitism among the Toms River government and population, fearful that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community located in adjacent Lakewood Township will extend into Toms River. In March 2016 the Township’s Mayor, Thomas Kelaher, was recently quoted as describing ultra-Orthodox Jews moving into Toms River as an “invasion,” regarding which he later stated “I have nothing to apologize for. . . . I don’t feel like I did anything wrong.” Further, an Assistant Township Attorney made a following statement regarding an anti-solicitation ordinance designed to prevent ultra-Orthodox Jews from purchasing homes in Toms River, which reads in part: “[D]ealing with this situation is much like a chess game. Every action seems to be countered in one way or another. That is why it requires a collaborative effort between concerned citizens and the governmental apparatus.”

Significant evidence of the anti-Semitic hostility of such “concerned citizens,” which often was directed at the Chabad’s religious use, has frequently appeared online in petitions, on social media and news websites, where statements referred to ultra-Orthodox Jews and/or the Chabad’s use as “cockroaches,” “trash,” a “cult,” “he-brews and she-brews,” a “Jewish conspiracy,” “disgusting phonies,” a “joo school,” “damn jews,” “dirty,” and a “disease,” among many other negative epithets.

The Chabad is represented by the attorneys of S&G and Christopher K. Costa of Kenny Chase & Costa.  The Complaint is available here.  Media release is available here.

“This cancerous movement targeting a specific religious minority has spread into Toms River,” Storzer said. “The use of local ordinances and land use regulation to build a wall around Lakewood should not be tolerated.”

K. Wall, "Chabad Suit Claims 'Rising Tide Of Anti-Semitism' Influenced Toms River Zoners," Toms River Patch (Mar. 22, 2016).

Now in the latest twist, representatives of the Chabad Jewish Center filed suit Tuesday in federal court against Toms River and its Zoning Board of  Adjustment alleging its refusal to allow small weekly prayer services in Rabbi Moshe Gourarie’s home is a civil rights violation spurred by a “rising tide  of anti-Semitism” in the community.

"Toms River / Lakewood situation takes new twist," AntiSemitism Watch (Mar. 23, 2016)

03/17/2016: Federal court orders Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment to vote on Yeshiva application by April 25

On March 17, 2016, the federal court for the District of New Jersey issued an order in the litigation brought by Yeshiva Gedola Na’os Yaakov against the Township of Ocean and its Zoning Board of Adjustment. The order requires the Board to hold hearings on April 5 and April 25 (limited to a total of ten hours), and to vote on the matter on the latter date.  The court further limited an attorney representing objectors to five hours to present his case, and unrepresented objectors to five minutes of testimony each, with a total of two hours.  As the Yeshiva's Complaint, filed on January 8, 2016, had stated:

Ocean Township residents opposed to the Yeshiva packed Board hearings in order to delay the application, shut down proceedings because of capacity limitations, and prolonged proceedings with lengthy, repetitive, irrelevant and improper testimony and questioning of Yeshiva’s witnesses. This animus resulted in the Board’s protracted 511-day review of the Yeshiva’s use variance application, far beyond the statutory requirement of 120 days under New Jersey law. The Board also refused to place reasonable restrictions on objector questioning and testimony, and refused to schedule sufficient hearings to render a timely decision. The Yeshiva had repeatedly consented to continuations of the Board’s hearings on the application, but could not continue to consent to proceedings that were going to continue for at least one to two more years while its temporary facilities are soon going to become unavailable. This led to the Board’s ultimate denial “without prejudice,” where it refused to deny the use variance on its merits but stated that it was unwilling to render such a decision without granting the objectors unlimited time to oppose the application, New Jersey law notwithstanding.

The Order is available here.

An attorney representing the Yeshiva, Roman Storzer of Storzer & Greene, said he is optimistic the Board will approve the variance.  "Although the Board proceedings continued far too long without justification, we are looking forward finally to their conclusion," Storzer said in an email on Thursday. "We're hopeful that the Board will do the right thing and approve this use." 

N.J. Advance Media (Mar. 17, 2016).  S&G's media release is available here.

03/03/2016: S&G files RLUIPA suit on behalf of Christian Community Chapel Wesleyan Church against Hillsborough Twp., N.J.

On March 3, 2016, the Christian Community Chapel Wesleyan Church filed its amended Complaint in federal court against the Township of Hillsborough and its Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The Defendants adopted the unreasonable position that the Church was not permitted under their zoning code to have a parsonage for its minister on the same 14-acre lot as the church building, and also denied a variance to do so.  The Church, represented by S&G, states that it "files this action to redress violations of its civil rights caused by the Defendants’ burdensome, discriminatory, and unreasonable land use regulations and intentional conduct that have prohibited and continue to prohibit Christian Community Chapel Wesleyan Church, Inc. from building and operating a place of worship on its property in Hillsborough, New Jersey, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq."

Amended Complaint, Civ. No. 3:16-214 (D.N.J. filed Mar. 3, 2016).

During the hearings before the board, Christian Community Chapel agreed to take down the silo and implement fire safety recommendations made by township Fire Official Chris Weniger, including the installation of a 30,000-gallon underground water tank and sprinklers within the buildings. The church also agreed to a number of conditions, including limiting the number of weddings to 14 per year with no more than two per month, no outdoor weddings, no activity before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m., summer camp and vacation Bible school limited to 150 students and held between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., and no alcohol use on the property.  The application failed to garner the five votes on the seven-member board needed to grant a variance. 

The lawsuit argues that Christian Community Chapel has "suffered significant financial damages" because of the board's decision.  In addition, the suit argues that the township's land use regulations "discriminate" against the church because a parsonage is an accessory use and does not require a use variance.  The lawsuit asks the federal court to reverse the board's decision, award damages and pay the church's legal fees.

Mike Deak, "Hillsborough church sues township over rejected plan," myCentralNewJersey.com (Mar. 2, 2016).

03/02/2016: Brick Township Board of Adjustment approves settlement with New Beginnings Christian Church

Brick Township's Board of Adjustment approves settlement with New Beginnings Christian Church after federal RLUIPA lawsuit filed.

The New Beginnings Christian Church ultimately received approval from the board to operate as a house of worship in its Brick Boulevard location, a former strip mall, the result of a settlement reached between the church and the township after the church sued following a previous denial by the zoning board.

John P. Miller, the board’s attorney, said the settlement would help the township avoid paying high legal fees as well as having to grant the church all it wanted in its original application. After being denied variances to operate due to concerns over the size of the church’s lot size, occupancy, traffic and parking concerns, the church sued in both state and federal court. The federal suit, based on the Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act, was a high-stakes battle, Miller warned. If a judge found just a single count of the church’s suit to be credible, the township would have been responsible to pay its legal fees and grant its application without board oversight.

Daniel Nee, "Brick Residents Decry Traffic, Safety Woes at Church’s Zoning Hearing," Brick Shorebeat (Mar. 3, 2016).

02/11/2016: Conservative Review discusses RLUIPA, "a younger law that works just as hard on the religious freedom front for almost none of the credit"

So, despite a Supreme Court ruling which declared RFRA’s application to states unconstitutional, there still remained a lingering issue of unconstitutional discrimination against religious institutions, especially due to what some scholars see as an “ever-increasing pressure by municipal authorities to limit their physical presence in America's cities and towns.” A 2001 article in the George Mason Law Review written by Roman P. Storzer & Anthony R. Picarello, Jr. outlines the law’s necessity in an ever-changing American religious landscape (in-text citations omitted):

While many continue in the form of the traditional suburban, stained-glass-and-steeple church, others view their missions differently. Some groups, especially those too small to purchase or rent real property, meet in houses belonging to members of the congregation. Others eschew the quiet suburbs in order to minister to those in a commercial or retail zone. Still others are called to an agricultural setting to pursue their religious exercise. Minority religions may have practices viewed as unfamiliar or distasteful by the general public. While all religious institutions ‘worship’ in the narrowest sense of the term, their additional activities differ widely in type and scope. By controlling where churches may locate, governments control the kind of mission they may pursue, and so risk forcing churches to conform to the community's vision … of the ‘proper’ church.

Nate Madden, "Why this little-known federal law is so important for religious freedom," Conservative Review (Feb. 11, 2016).

So, despite a Supreme Court ruling which declared RFRA’s application to states unconstitutional, there still remained a lingering issue of unconstitutional discrimination against religious institutions, especially due to what some scholars see as an “ever-increasing pressure by municipal authorities to limit their physical presence in America's cities and towns.” A 2001 article in the George Mason Law Review written by Roman P. Storzer & Anthony R. Picarello, Jr. outlines the law’s necessity in an ever-changing American religious landscape (in-text citations omitted):

While many continue in the form of the traditional suburban, stained-glass-and-steeple church, others view their missions differently. Some groups, especially those too small to purchase or rent real property, meet in houses belonging to members of the congregation. Others eschew the quiet suburbs in order to minister to those in a commercial or retail zone. Still others are called to an agricultural setting to pursue their religious exercise. Minority religions may have practices viewed as unfamiliar or distasteful by the general public. While all religious institutions ‘worship’ in the narrowest sense of the term, their additional activities differ widely in type and scope. By controlling where churches may locate, governments control the kind of mission they may pursue, and so risk forcing churches to conform to the community's vision … of the ‘proper’ church.

- See more at: https://www.conservativereview.com/commentary/2016/02/why-this-little-known-federal-law-is-so-important#sthash.sFY7vEXd.dpuf

01/21/2016: "Yeshiva applicant fights back with lawsuit"

A lawsuit is the result of the abrupt conclusion last month to the highly scrutinized proposal for a Jewish college and dormitory. Attorneys representing the Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov’s filed suit against the Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Ocean Township Council on Jan. 8, citing a civil rights violation and discrimination after the board rejected the application for a 96-student Jewish university.

K. Walter, "Yeshiva applicant fights back with lawsuit," Atlanticville (Jan. 21, 2016)

01/13/2016: Media reports on Yeshiva lawsuit against Ocean Township

The lawsuit said the residents' efforts to pack the meetings, causing further delays in the application process, were fueled by "unsubstantiated fears of, and prejudice against, Orthodox Jewish men." It also says anti-Semitic undertones were displayed on several social media websites and in the comment sections of news organizations.

For example, in a comment on a petition created on change.org, someone expressed fear that Ocean Township could turn into Lakewood, an Ocean County township with a large Orthodox Jewish population. "I owned property in Lakewood NJ for 24 years," the commenter wrote. "Orthodox Jewish landlords made life a living hell for me there! I would hate to see this repeated in Ocean!" Another commenter said, "There are plenty of other places for radical religious schools."

"This is bigotry masked as a zoning hearing, pure and simple," said Roman P. Storzer, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing the applicant. "The situation that the Yeshiva has faced here is exactly why Congress decided that RLUIPA's protections are necessary." 

A. Napoliello, "Yeshiva sues Shore town after denial of boarding school application," NJ Advance (Jan. 11, 2016).

The December vote concluded over a year of boisterous hearings, including a July meeting where over 1,000 community members packed the Ocean Township High School auditorium, exceeding the capacity and forcing the board to adjourn.

The complaint said residents opposed to the yeshiva packed the Zoning Board hearings in order to delay the application, shut down proceedings becaues of capacity limitations and prolonged proceedings with "lengthy, repetitive, irrelevant and improper testimony and questioning of yeshiva's witnesses."

The result, the complaint states, was an application that dragged on for 511 days, nearly four times the statutory limit of 120 days.

D. Radel, "Yeshiva group files suit against Ocean Township," Asbury Park Press (Jan. 11, 2016).

"Yeshiva Files RLUIPA Action Against New Jersey Township," Religious Clause (Jan. 12, 2016).

The applicant has decided to take the decision to court. On January 8, 2016, through the firm of Storzer & Greene, Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov filed suit against Ocean Township, N.J. and its Zoning Board of Adjustment, challenging the Township's zoning regulations and Board's denial of the Yeshiva's variance application to use an existing school building, the Talmudic academy was filed in federal district court alleging violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and the Fair Housing Act.  The firm said Yeshiva is also represented by New Jersey attorney Donna M. Jennings of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A.

The court complaint says the Yeshiva needs a religious school, and the Township's zoning laws completely prohibit religious education throughout the Township for students over 18 years of age, while permitting other adult education institutions.

It also describes what it cites as a long litany of examples of the substantial hostility faced by the Yeshiva during the variance application proceedings. The court filing says hearings were confronted with descriptions of the applicant as "religious zealots," "[s]cumbags," "dirty" and "Long coat gangsters," and accused of being "a different breed; the women are sub species and their ways are cultish, . . . ."

The Complaint as described in a Storzer & Greene statement that "many Ocean Township residents hold animus toward the Orthodox Jewish community in nearby Lakewood, New Jersey," that the "Ocean Township community . . . engaged in a concerted effort to 'pack' the hearings [and] delay proceedings," and this "hostility by many residents of Ocean Township includes unsubstantiated fears of, and prejudice against, Orthodox Jewish men."

J. Kearns, "Yeshiva Files Federal Complaint in Ocean Township School Application Denial," Word on the Shore (Jan. 13, 2016)

The Yeshiva Gedola application is the third attempt to establish a yeshiva in Ocean Township. The previous two applications, filed in 2010, were similarly denied in the face of “community resistance.”

M. Rephun, "Ocean Township Zoning Board of Adjustment Sued for Denying Yeshiva Application, "Jewish Political News & Updates (Jan. 12, 2016).

 

01/13/2016: Visit S&G's new Twitter resource: RLUIPALaw

RLUIPALaw is the leading Internet resource tracking opinions, news, scholarship, and other developments related to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

01/08/2016: Yeshiva files suit against Ocean Township for boarding school ban and variance denial

On January 8, 2016, the Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov filed suit in federal district court against Ocean Township, N.J. and the Township's Zoning Board of Adjustment, challenging the Township's laws regulating schools and the denial of the Yeshiva's use variance application under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Fair Housing Act.  The Yeshiva is represented by S&G and the firm of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A.  A media release is available here and the Complaint is located here.

10/05/2015: Coverage of Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov v. Village of Pomona decision

"Most of Rabbinical College's Challenges To Land Use Restrictions Are To Proceed To Trial," Religion Clause (Oct. 2, 2015)

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas issued the sanctions on Sept. 29. In his 145-page opinion, Karas called it the "rare case where bad faith and a clear intent to deprive Plaintiffs of the evidence... is sufficiently clear."

A. Taylor, "Judge sanctions Pomona in rabbinical college fight," The Journal News (Oct. 5, 2015)

09/30/2015: Rabbinical College lawsuit headed to trial

On September 29, 2015, the federal district court for the Southern District of New York issued its decision and order denying summary judgment on most claims in the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov litigation, holding that "[t]here is ample evidence in the record to make the question of discriminatory purpose a disputed fact" and that "'the building of rabbinical college,' of which student housing would be a part, 'falls squarely within [the] definition of ‘religious exercise,’' and that 'the multi-family dormitories that [Plaintiffs] seek to build are intended to facilitate religious exercise.'"  The opinion is available here.

09/25/2015: Catholic News reports on Bensalem, Pa. decision

"Mosque can proceed with RLUIPA challenge to denial of use variance," Catholic News Live (Sept. 25, 2015)

09/23/2015: Federal court rules against Bensalem, Pa. in RLUIPA case challenging denial of use variance

In rejecting the Township's argument that a house of worship must petition for rezoning before it can file a RLUIPA action, the court noted that "Defendants do not cite any case from any jurisdiction holding that the failure to apply for rezoning prevents review of a denial of a use variance."  The court also rejected nearly all of the Township's arguments that the Bensalem Masjid's Complaint failed to state various claims under RLUIPA, the federal Constitution, and the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act.  The Masjid is represented by S&G, together with Pennsylvania counsel Ryan Houldin.  The decision is available here.  An analysis of the decision is available here.

08/06/2015: Article examines hostility to Ocean Township, N.J. Yeshiva application

Signs line the streets in the Wanamassa section of Ocean stating, “No Dorm on Logan Road.”  According to some, the signs might as well say, “No Jews on Logan Road.”  “Those paying attention know that when people hear that it is an Orthodox Jewish school, their reflex is to say, ‘No way,’” an activist told Matzav.com. “The residents will not admit it publicly, but it is pretty transparent,”

Ocean is no stranger to schools and students. In fact, it houses students from nearby Monmouth University.  But locals are opposed to a use variance sought by Yeshiva Na’os Yaakov for a 96-student boarding school on 1515 Logan Road.

Residents are showing up to the hearings in droves, NJ.com reports. The last three board meetings had to be moved to Ocean Township High School to accommodate the large crowds.

The residents don’t talk about the Jewish nature of the yeshiva. Instead they say that “the new school will drive down their property value and alter the makeup of the area,” despite offering no proof of either claim.  Roman Storzer of Storzer & Greene, a firm that represents religious organizations in zoning and land use cases, said the applicant has satisfied all of the relevant land use interests, such as traffic, noise and environmental concerns.  “They would also be renovating the property, making it much more harmonious,” Storzer said, according to NJ.com.

Gavriel Sitrit, "Residents of Ocean, NJ, Doing All They Can to Keep Out Rav Shlomo Feivel Schustal’s Yeshiva," Matzav.com Newscenter (Aug. 6, 2015)

08/05/2015: S&G client Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov faces opposition to its educational facilitiy in Ocean Township, N.J.

A Jewish educational institution seeking to use an existing school facility as a boarding school for Jewish scholars aged 18 to 22 faces fierce opposition from the local community.  New Jersey Advance Media reports that "[r]esidents say that the new school will drive down their property value and alter the makeup of the area."  "[R]esidents are showing up to the hearings in droves," opposing the application.

Roman Storzer of Storzer & Greene, a firm that represents religious organizations in zoning and land use cases said the applicant has satisfied all of the relevant land use interests, such as traffic, noise and environmental concerns. 

They would also be renovating the property, making it much more harmonious [with the neighborhood]," Storzer said.

He said the fact that opposition remains strong among the residents suggests their concerns go above the building itself.

Storzer also pointed to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, commonly known as RLUIPA, which protects religious organizations from being discriminated against in zoning and landmark cases.

A. Napoliello, "Neighborhood fights to keep out Jewish boarding school," NJ Advance Media for NJ.com (Aug. 5, 2015)

07/11/2015: The Greenwich Free Press writes about S&G client Greenwich Reform Synagogue's settlement

A year ago, in July 2014, Greenwich’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied GRS application to build a house of worship.  Following the denial, GRS filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Greenwich violated its civil rights by discriminating against their proposed plan. They invoked a law known as “RLUIPA,” which stands for the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. . . . The new GRS house of worship will be the second purpose-built synagogue in the Greenwich’s 375-year history.

"Greenwich Reform Synagogue vs Cos Cob Neighbors: It’s All Over But the Shouting," Greenwich Free Press (July 11, 2015)

07/08/2015: City of Norwalk, CT considers amendments to zoning regulations addressing places of worship

After settlement with S&G client Al Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk, The Hour reports that the City's zoning comissioners are considering proposed amendments for places of worship in certain business and industrial zones, as well as criteria for special permits.  Such amendments would allow them as permitted uses in various districts.  The article continues,

"It's something that the U.S. Department of Justice pretty much required us to do in order to not have their investigation, I understand, continue," [Mayor Harry] Rilling said. "So it's something that we're required by the Department of Justice to do in order to be in compliance."

   . . . .

Under the settlement, the city agreed to pay Al Madany Islamic Center $925,000 to settle the center's claims for litigation damages, $585,000 for the Fillow Street property, $307,500 to cover out-of-pocket litigation costs incurred by Al Madany, and up to $215,000 for reasonable out-of-pocket development costs incurred by Al Madany for a new property. The city also agreed to work with Al Madany to find a new property.

Robert Koch, "After mosque battle, city considers changing zoning regulations addressing special permits and places of worship," The Hour (July 8, 2015).

05/06/2015: Effort to rezone and demolish church wins key battle in Cumberland, Indiana

Indianapolis' Metropolitan Development Commission voted 4-2 in favor of a developer's request to rezone site with a formerly landmarked church owned by S&G client St. John Untied Church of Christ. 

Church leaders say the aging building needs at least $750,000 in repairs—money the dwindling congregation doesn’t have. It’s building a new and smaller church on part of a 50-acre tract the church owns at the northwest corner of East Prospect Street and Carroll Road.

S. Olson, "Giant Eagle wins battle to demolish church," Indianapolis Business Journal (May 6, 2015).

Residents who are fighting to preserve the church posted on their Facebook page, "The Town of Cumberland is very disappointed. The MDC voted 4-2 in favor of the rezoning request, meaning the church is one step closer to being razed.

Associated Press, "Panel approves rezoning request to allow Cumberland church demolition," WTHR.com (May 6, 2015)

04/23/2015: U.S. Department of Justice files amicus brief supporting constitutionality of RLUIPA in Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov's lawsuit against Pomona, N.Y.

In response to the Village of Pomona's arguments that RLUIPA is unconstitutional on its face and as applied in the Congregation's lawsuit challenging the Village's enactment of various laws preventing the Congregation from using its 100-acre property to train rabbinical judges, the United States Department of Justice intervened to defend the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.  The Congregation is represented by S&G, together with co-counsel Savad Churgin of Nanuet, New York, and Stepanovich Law, P.L.C. of Chesapeake, Va.

The defendants in Westchester Day School also challenged RLUIPA’s land use provisions as unconstitutional. The Second Circuit held that RLUIPA was a valid exercise of Congress’s authority under the Commerce Clause, and that the project at issue in that case—substantial renovations to a Jewish religious school, with projected construction costs of about $9 million—fell within RLUIPA’s protections. In addition, the Court held that RLUIPA’s land use provisions do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. And the Westchester Day School Court also held that RLUIPA’s land use provisions do not exceed the limitations that federalism places on otherwise valid congressional power. Here, the defendants challenge the application of RLUIPA to the proposed construction of a religious school and raise similar arguments. This case is indistinguishable from Westchester Day School, and defendants’ constitutional attacks on RLUIPA are meritless under that controlling authority. Finally, to the extent the defendants here raise constitutional attacks on RLUIPA not addressed by Westchester Day School, these arguments are also without merit.

Read the Department of Justice's brief here.

03/20/2015: State court dismisses third party's collateral attack on RLUIPA Consent Order between the Dayalbagh Radhasoami Satsang Association of North America and Old Bridge, N.J.

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County Law Division, granted S&G client Dayalbagh Radhoasoami Satsang Association of North America's (DRSANA) motion to dismiss a complaint challenging the federal settlement between DRSANA and the Township of Old Bridge Zoning Board of Adjustment.  The settlement permits DRSANA to "build, occupy and operate on [their] property as described in the Settlement Agreement between DRSANA, the Township, and the Zoning Board," subject to site plan and subdivision approval.  The operation of DRSANA's planned religious facility includes a place of worship, parsonage and ten dwelling units in five residential duplex homes.  The settlement, which was incorporated into a federal consent order, was challenged by a third party opposed to such development.  The order of dismissal is available here.

02/11/2015: Local preservationists oppose church demolition plans

Preservationists are opposed to the replacement of a crumbling church structure, claiming that "there's a broader community interest here," and "It's kind of their symbol of their community, if you will."  S&G previously filed suit on behalf of the St. John United Church of Christ, resulting in the removal of its historic landmark designation

In 2010, it had an agreement with the former Gershman Brown Crowley developer to build a CVS. But the city of Indianapolis stepped in to protect the church by granting it landmark status. The church, in turn, filed a federal lawsuit saying the designation by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission violated their constitutional rights to freely exercise their religion. The lawsuit was settled in 2011 when the church agreed to give the preservation group Indiana Landmarks six months to find a buyer that would save the building. The city rescinded the designation, according to the terms of the settlement, when it couldn’t find a buyer.

S. Olson, "Historic Church once again target of demolition," Indianapolis Business Journal (Feb. 6, 2015)

In early 2010, representatives from CVS were in talks with church leaders to buy the building for “significantly more” than what is being offered by Giant Eagle, Watson said.

Word of the transaction sparked a scramble among historic preservationists, and the Indianapolis-Marion County Metropolitan Development Commission designated it a historic area to prevent the building's demolition. CVS also walked away from the deal.

Later that year, leaders of St. John United filed a lawsuit claiming that city officials meddled in the functions of the church by forcing a historic designation. The church won the case and the designation was removed.

J. Mack, "Church, Cumberland officials at odds over fate of century-old building," IndyStar (Feb. 10, 2015)

J. Brilliant, "Community rallies to save historic east Indianapolis church," WTHR (Feb. 9, 2015)

02/06/2015: 2015 GW Religious Freedom Moot Court Competition

Roman Storzer served as a quarterfinal judge in George Washington University Law School's annual religious freedom moot court competition.  The 2015 problem involves claims of conscience raised by teachers against a hypothetical law in Washington, D.C. that requires teachers and administrators to carry firearms on public school property during school hours.  More information available here.

12/10/2014: Philadelphia Magazine article on Bensalem litigation

Philadelphia Magazine reports on S&G client Bensalem Masjid's lawsuit against Bensalem Township, Pa.

Bensalem has its fair share of churches and other houses of worship. The Bucks County township of 60,000 has Catholic churches, Protestant churches, synagogues, a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and a Buddhist Temple. And there are two Hindu temples under development. But if you’re a Bensalem Muslim, you’re out of luck, because Bensalem doesn’t have a mosque. Instead, local Muslims meet once a week for Friday prayers inside a rented fire hall. The Bensalem Masjid, a religious organization with some 200 families in its congregation, wants to change that but says that Bensalem Township and its Zoning Hearing Board haven’t exactly rolled out the red carpet for its proposed mosque (rendering above) on the 3800 block of Hulmeville Road, which has several other houses of worship within a one-mile radius. And now the group has filed a lawsuit (below) against the township and the board in federal court.

The comments to the article speak not-so-eloquently to the need for RLUIPA.

V. Fiorillo, "Bensalem Muslims Say Township Won't Let Them Build a Mosque," Philadelphia Magazine (Dec. 10, 2014)

12/08/2014: Bensalem Masjid challenges Township's zoning scheme regulating religious institutions

On December 8, 2014, the Bensalem Masjid filed suit against Bensalem Township and the Bensalem Township Zoning Hearing Board, asserting its rights under RLUIPA, the First Amendment, and Pennsylvania's Religious Freedom Protection Act for the Township's failure to permit it to use its property as a house of worship.  This Masjid's Complaint states:

Bensalem Township’s scheme for regulating religious land uses—by banning places of worship throughout the Township except for scant individual parcels located throughout its jurisdiction and already occupied—effectively grants the Township and Board unbridled discretion to permit favored religious land uses and prohibit disfavored religious land uses, including the Bensalem Masjid.

The Township's Zoning Hearing Board also denied the Masjid a use variance, although it has granted several variances to other religious organizations in similar circumstances.

More information coming soon.

11/26/2014: S&G client files suit against County of Maui & Maui Planning Commission

The Spirit of Aloha Temple, located in the Paia-Haiku area on Maui, has filed a RLUIPA suit against the Maui Planning Commission and Maui County, Hawaii challenging the denial of their special use permit to hold small religious gatherings of 24 to 40 people on its 11-acre property.  The property, which is currently being used to provide botanical tours for greater numbers of people, was determined by the Planning Commission to not meet Maui's special use permit criteria based on "traffic" impacts.

The Complaint filed in federal district court in Honolulu states:

The Maui County Planning Department, based on substantial review, comments by other governmental agencies, and proposed conditions to mitigate any land use impacts, recommended approval of the Plaintiffs’ application for a State Land Use Commission Special Permit to allow the religious use.  Nevertheless, the Planning Commission denied the Permit based on the affirmative vote of three of its eight members, and the abstaining of two of its members.

Storzer & Greene represent the Temple together with Jonathan Durrett of the the Honolulu firm Durrett, Rosehill & Ma, LLP.

11/24/2014: Federal court confirms settlement between Greenwich Reform Synagogue and Town of Greenwich, Connecticut

The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut today confirmed the Settlement Agreement between the Greenwich Reform Synagogue, the Town of Greenwich and its Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals. The settlement commits the Board of Appeals to issue a Special Exception for the construction of the planned Synagogue within ten days, and other Town land use agencies to promptly act on the other permits required. 

The settlement is welcomed by the Greenwich Reform Synagogue, which has been without a home for about two years.  The Synagogue’s plan had met stubborn opposition from numerous residents and neighbors, seven of whom intervened in the RLUIPA suit and opposed the settlement.

10/02/2014: Media coverage of the Greenwich Reformed Synagogue settlement

The agreement would bring an end to the synagogue’s suit against the town and also seemingly clear a major hurdle toward building the synagogue on Orchard Street, which has raised the ire of neighbors who say they don’t want the development inside an otherwise residential neighborhood.

This lawsuit from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denying a special exception that the Greenwich Reform Synagogue was seeking for its plan to build a new synagogue on Orchard Street by a two to two margin with one abstention. That spurred the synagogue to file suit against the town in the United States District Court for Connecticut, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and claiming they had been unfairly discriminated against. As part of its suit, the synagogue said that the ZBA had approved churches in several residential neighborhoods throughout town.

K. Borsuk, "Synagogue settlement to be heard tonight, " Greenwich Post (Oct. 2, 2014)

"Board votes in favor of Greenwich Reform Synagogue," Connecticut News 12 (Oct. 2, 2014)

T. Mellana, "Greenwich selectment approve synagogue settlement," Greenwich Real Time (Oct. 2, 2014)

10/02/2014: S&G client Greenwich Reform Synagogue settles RLUIPA lawsuit against Town of Greenwich, Connecticut

In two separate votes today, the Greenwich Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Selectmen voted to approve a settlement agreement allowing the Greenwich Reform Synagogue to move forward with development of its property as a house of worship, concluding a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Synagogue by S&G and the Greenwich law firm of Heagney, Lennon, Slane LLP on July 7, 2014.  “We are pleased that this matter was quickly resolved by negotiation with the Town and the ZBA, especially as this comes on the eve of Yom Kippur. This agreement will remove the obstacles to building a new home for this congregation that has been without a place of worship for years,” said Robert L. Greene, attorney for the Synagogue.  “The hard work and cooperation of all parties made this possible.”  The Greenwich Zoning Board of Appeals had previously denied a Special Exception on June 11, 2014.  This is the second major RLUIPA settlement in Connecticut in recent weeks.

Greenwich Reform Synagogue, a Reform Jewish Congregation serving the Greenwich, Connecticut community for over 35 years, filed its federal lawsuit against the Town of Greenwich and the Town of Greenwich Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals on July 7, 2014. The suit charged that the Zoning Board of Appeals’ outright denial of zoning approval for its approximately 12,000 square foot planned synagogue facility violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of free exercise of religion and equal protection of the law, as well as the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), the Connecticut Religious Freedom Act and Connecticut zoning law.

The Synagogue’s building plans had already been approved unanimously by the Inland Wetland and Watercourses Agency (“IWWAA”) and preliminarily approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission, also unanimously. However, the Zoning Board of Appeals deadlocked and refused to approve construction of a house of worship in the Cos Cob neighborhood of Greenwich, even though approximately 30 of the 35 houses of worship in Greenwich are located in such residential zoning districts.  The ZBA had previously approved similar projects for other religious groups, and the Greenwich zoning code specifically permits houses of worship in residential districts.

The Synagogue’s plan meets all the zoning requirements for height, setbacks, area coverage and green areas, and provided numerous additional accommodations to neighbors that exceeded legal requirements.  Those accommodations included landscaped screening and buffering to prevent visual impacts and ensure the privacy of neighbors.  Additionally, after multiple traffic studies, the Planning and Zoning Commission had preliminarily found that traffic in the neighborhood would not be materially affected.

The planned house of worship will be only the second purpose-built synagogue in Greenwich’s 374-year history.  The Synagogue will announce the settlement at its Yom Kippur services and aims to break ground in 2015.

09/30/2014: S&G submits opinion letter to ANC regarding historic landmark regulation of St. Thomas church

In a letter to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2B of the District of Columbia, S&G attorneys write:

[L]ocal opponents’ desire to have church ruins 'preserved in their original state, context and place' cannot outweigh the fundamental free exercise rights of a house of worship.  Forcing a church to maintain, at its own expense and its own detriment, the remnants of a religious structure based on the desires of a few who wish only to benefit from—but not support the costs of—such structure, irrespective of the church’s needs, is neither reasonable nor permitted under the law.

The ANC 2B then adopted a resolution stating in part

Whereas, the ANC in prior church construction or renovation projects has had concerns that the HPRB does not take into account applicable constitutional and federal law–including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act (RLUIPA)–and that these federal laws supersede the HPRB’s own regulations and impose further limitations the HPRB’s authority.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED that ANC 2B does not object to the concept and massing of the religious component of the project and strongly urges the HPRB to take seriously its duty to follow applicable federal law–including RFRA and RLUIPA–by not imposing undue burdens on the use of this property for religious purposes;

Read our opinion letter here and the ANC's Resolution here.

09/23/2014: "Norwalk Settles Mosque Lawsuit for $2 Million"

Norwalk Common Council settles with S&G client Al Madany Islamic Center for more than $2M:

After weeks of closed-door meetings and public hearings, officials in Norwalk, Conn., have agreed to settle a two-year legal battle with a local Muslim group that was looking to build a mosque.

K. Goetz, "Norwalk settles mosque dispute with more than $2M payout," WSHU Public Radio Group (Sept. 24, 2014)

"Norwalk City Council OKs $2 Million Plan To Find New Site For Mosque," Norwalk Daily Voice (Sept. 24, 2014)

"Norwalk Settles Mosque Lawsuit for $2 Million," Connecticut Law Tribune (Sept. 24, 2014)

The following City officials will work in good faith with Al Madany for no less than two years to locate an acceptable alternative property:  Director of Economic Development, Director of Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, Director of Planning and Zoning, Corporation Counsel and Mayor.  If and when Al Madany identifies an acceptable alternative property, the City shall reimburse Al Madany up to $215,000 for the reasonable out-of-pocket development costs incurred by Al Madany at a new property, which may include legal, engineering and architectural fees, and costs associated with landscaping services and traffic calming measures, . . . .

The Hour (Sept. 23, 2014)

08/16/2014: RLUIPA law review article by S&G attorneys selected for inclusion in Thomson Reuters' Zoning and Planning Law Handbook, 2014 edition

“Christian Parking, Hindu Parking: Applying Established Civil Rights Principles to RLUIPA’s Nondiscrimination Provision,” published at 16 Rich. J. L. & Pub. Int. 295 (2013), has been selected to be reprinted in the Zoning and Planning Law Handbook.  The Handbook "opens with a survey of recent developments in zoning and land use law, including Supreme Court and lower court decisions and legislative and administrative activity. The handbook offers a cutting-edge perspective on the most critical land use, zoning law, and conservation issues of our time."

Purchase information available here.

03/12/2014: S&G becomes a Cooperating Organization with the PBS "God In America" series Defending Religious Liberty in the 21st Century

   Storzer & Greene, P.L.L.C. welcomes God in America viewers to our website at www.storzerandgreene.com, which contains information about our work in the modern day defense of religious liberty. The pages located here describe various kinds of government actions that inhibit the rights of people to freely practice their religious faith. Our cases involve the Amish, Native Americans, Buddhists, various Christian denominations, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and others. We believe that religious liberty for all is a critical part of our American experience.

Read more about the "God in America" series here, and the full list of participating organizations here.

One of the major threats to religious liberty today is local government attempts to limit religious communities building or improving their facilities through zoning and land use laws. These issues were specifically addressed by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), a federal statute enacted to clarify the rights of religious groups to build churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, religious schools, fellowship halls, social service facilities and more. Many of the stories you will see on these pages deal with our work in this sphere. Both Mr. Storzer and Mr. Greene have been involved in RLUIPA cases since its enactment. You will also find a link here to our writing, conference details, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent report on the 10th Anniversary of RLUIPA.

We see our work as the modern day extension of the efforts of the early American champions of religious liberty, those seen in the God In America seers and others such as WIlliam Penn and Roger Williams. We hope this site helps round out your knowledge of the ongoing efforts to continue the work of the Founders.

03/12/2014: Storzer & Greene attorneys co-author article on RLUIPA's "Nondiscrimination" provision

Examining 42 U.S.C. 2000cc(b)(2)--which prohibits "government [from] impos[ing] or implement[ing] a land use regulation that discriminates against any assembly or institution on the basis of religion or religious denomination"--the authors argue that the law's protections are needed now more than ever:

While there is ample evidence of discrimination—both overt and surreptitious—violative of RLUIPA, some commentators continue to argue that religious groups simply do not face discrimination during the land use regulation process and that stakeholders in such regulation are only concerned with legitimate land use issues. They are plainly wrong. While there is no question that local zoning boards and other regulatory bodies are often motivated by sincere concerns about matters such as traffic, environmental protection, and adherence to building codes, it is also true that such reasons are often used as a façade for invidious discrimination. Also, it is far more frequent that minority faiths and those that are unfamiliar to local residents suffer from such intolerance

Christian Parking, Hindu Parking: Applying Established Civil Rights Principles to RLUIPA's Nondiscrimination Provision, 16 Richmond J. of L. and the Public Interest 295 (Winter 2013).

09/18/2013: Northwest Land Law Forum Analysis of S&G client's victory in the Fourth Circuit against Montgomery County, Md.

Besides applying the wrong test, the Fourth Circuit found that the trial court required that defendant must also have “targeted” plaintiff and its beliefs.  While such targeting is unconstitutional, RLUIPA does not require targeting under its “substantial burden” test, even if the burden is imposed in a neutral or generally applicable manner.  If there be such a burden, the public agency must use the least restrictive means and fulfill a compelling state interest.

E. Sullivan, "Fourth Circuit Remands Dismissal of RLUIPA Claim," Northwest Land Law Forum (Sept. 18, 2013)

03/21/2013: S&G Orthodox Jewish clients win summary judgment

The Religious Observance Clauses at issue here do not single out a particular religious sect or denomination for special treatment; rather, they are reasonable accommodations of the employees’ religious beliefs. The Supreme Court “has long recognized that the government may (and sometimes must) accommodate religious practices and that it may do so without violating the Establishment Clause.” Corp. of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. Amos, 483 U.S. 327, 334 (1987) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 713 (2005) (same). The Court has held that “there is room for play in the joints between’ the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, allowing the government to accommodate religion beyond free exercise requirements, without offense to the Establishment Clause.” Cutter, 544 U.S. at 713 (quoting Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712, 718 (2004)). “There is ample room under the Establishment Clause for ‘benevolent neutrality which will permit religious exercise to exist without sponsorship and without interference.”

Here, the District’s enforcement of the Religious Observance Clauses does not amount to an illicit advancement of religion through its own activities and influence; rather, the clauses are self-selecting and allow the teachers and nurses to decide whether to use their leave days for the purpose of observing a particular religious holiday. Moreover, the Religious Observance Clauses do not designate specific religious holidays for inclusion, thereby improperly granting an added benefit to members of one faith and creating the impermissible inference that the District favors or prefers particular religions over others.

Berkowitz v. East Ramapo Central School Dist., Civ. No. 11-07002 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2013).