Orthodox Jewish groups are praising the U.S. Department of Justice after it filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Village of Airmont in Rockland County, N.Y., claiming that its zoning laws are “discriminatory” and aimed at Chassidic Jews.
The suit alleges that the village’s 2018 zoning regulations not only violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), they are “applied … in a discriminatory fashion against Orthodox Jewish residents.”
“As a jury found over two decades ago, the Village of Airmont was born out of a spirit of animus against a religious minority,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss said in a release. “Sadly, rather than working to overcome that shameful legacy, Airmont has flagrantly ignored the terms of a court judgment and implemented land-use practices that by design and operation are again meant to infringe unlawfully on the rights of a minority religious community.”
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in the ongoing battle between the Village of Airmont and a growing Chassidic presence in its community. Airmont, which was founded in 1991, split from the Town of Ramapo, N.Y., amid concerns that lax zoning regulations would lead to a large influx of Orthodox Jews in their midst.
Since then, the village, located about 35 miles north of New York City, has been the subject of federal lawsuits and judicial oversight.
“Airmont has a long history of ugly bias against the Jewish community, and clearly the Attorney General [William Barr] is as frustrated by this as we in the Jewish community, along with all who value religious freedom and the rights of property owners everywhere,” Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the Coalition for Jewish Values, said in a press release.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s vice president of government affairs and its Washington director, said, his organization is “looking forward to a satisfactory resolution to this case. Agudath Israel and others worked so hard to get RLUIPA passed because we knew how valuable it would be in fighting actions that too often mask religious bias. Kudos to the Justice Department for rightfully making this a priority.”
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