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) read more »
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) read more »
On March 14, 2016, the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a decision denying a preliminary injunction to the Harbor Missionary Church in San Buenaventura, California, which was denied a conditional use permit to operate its homeless ministry. The Church sought to provide spiritual guidance and other basic needs--clothing, food, showers, counseling and other support--to the city's homeless men and women:
The district court erred by questioning the validity of the Church’s religious beliefs and by determining that its homeless ministry could be divided piecemeal when the Church insisted on the importance of keeping its homeless ministry as a whole at the same location. . . . Currently, if the
Church wishes to conduct its homeless ministry—a ministry the Church believes to be an integral part of its religious exercise—the Church must relocate. In addition to selling its current property, the Church would have to raise an estimated $1.4 million to relocate, an expense the City does not dispute. The substantial cost associated with relocating the site of the Church demonstrates that the denial of the conditional use permit substantially burdens the Church’s religious exercise.
S&G worked with the Stanford Law School's Religious Liberty Clinic in protecting the Harbor Missionary Church's rights.
The Court of Appeals' decision is located here. read more »
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). read more »
Brick Township's Board of Adjustment approves settlement with S&G client 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). read more »
05/02/2016: Roman Storzer to participate in U.S. Department of Justice RLUIPA Roundtable in Detroit
The Justice Department announced the launch of “Combating Religious Discrimination Today,” a new interagency community engagement initiative designed to promote religious freedom, challenge religious discrimination and enhance enforcement of religion-based hate crimes. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in partnership with other federal agencies, will host a series of community roundtables across the country that focus on protecting people and places of worship from religion-based hate crimes; combating religious discrimination, including bullying, in education and employment; and addressing unlawful barriers that interfere with the construction of places of worship.
"Justice Department Announces New Interagency Initiative to Combat Religious Discrimination," Mar. 8, 2016 read more »
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"
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): - See more at: https://www.conservativereview.com/commentary/2016/02/why-this-little-known-federal-law-is-so-important#sthash.sFY7vEXd.dpuf
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. read more »
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. read more »
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." read more »