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Representative Matters


Yeshiva Gedola Na'os Yaakov v. Ocean Twp., N.J.

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)

03/14/2016: Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rules in favor of Church with homeless ministry

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.

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).

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)

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

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.

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.

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).