Congregation Toras Chaim | Cases | First Liberty

City Board of Adjustment Refuses to Protect Congregation

Despite years of ongoing litigation and productive discussions with the City of Dallas, Rabbi Yaakov Rich and Congregation Toras Chaim continued earnestly seeking to comply with regulations of the Dallas Board of Adjustment. Through the efforts of First Liberty and its network attorneys at Winston & Strawn, LLP., the last remaining regulatory obstacle was a parking requirement. The Board of Adjustment considered Congregation Toras Chaim’s request for a variance to the parking requirement at the April 17 meeting of the Board and voted unanimously to deny the variance. In response to the Board’s action, First Liberty and its network attorneys at Winston & Strawn, LLP., filed a lawsuit in Collin County District Court to protect the rights of the members of Congregation Toras Chaim.

Without further legal action to overturn the decision of the Board, the property will be rendered noncompliant and therefore unable to be used as a place of worship. Ultimately, if the property cannot be used as a synagogue, the members will be forced to sell their homes and move out of the neighborhood.

“City officials have failed to follow the laws that protect this small congregation from unreasonable regulations,” said Chelsey Youman, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Dallas is a diverse city that should welcome this small Jewish congregation and protect its ability to operate. But, unless a court intervenes, CTC will be forced from city limits.”

Case History

Rabbi Yaakov Rich, the highly respected leader of Congregation Toras Chaim, has been teaching the Torah for years. When he heard in 2007 that a group of people in the Highlands of McKamy neighborhood in far north Dallas wanted to form a Jewish community focused on the Ohr HaTorah Shul outlook on spiritual life, which is only practiced by one other synagogue in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, he decided to help. Rabbi Rich moved to the neighborhood and founded Congregation Toras Chaim.

Because tenets of the Orthodox Jewish faith instruct members not to drive or ride in a car on the Sabbath or on Jewish holidays, the congregation must meet within walking distances of its members’ homes.

Disgruntled Neighbor Files Lawsuit

The homeowners association (HOA) had full knowledge of the congregation’s religious activities and took no action, in effect treating them as any other weekly home Bible study or social hour. However, when the congregation relocated in May 2013, the congregation moved to a home across from David Schneider. In December 2013, Schneider filed a lawsuit against Congregation Toras Chaim and the owners of the residence where they were meeting.

Banning the congregation from meeting for religious purposes in the home would have substantially burdened the free exercise of religion of the congregation’s members, thus violating two key laws: the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA) and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Both of these laws were passed to protect against hostility to religion.

First Liberty Institute stepped in to help defend the congregation’s right to continue its religious meetings in the home and won a summary judgment in State Court. After the ruling, Rabbi Rich expressed his thankfulness for the court’s favorable decision. He also said, “I pray that today marks the beginning of a new era of tolerance and peace in our community.” Barely a month went by before someone vandalized Rabbi Rich’s car by spray-painting a swastika on it.

City of Dallas Sues to Require Parking Spaces for People who Don’t Drive

Just a few weeks after a judge ended Schneider’s attempt to stop the congregation’s religious activities in the private home, the city of Dallas filed a lawsuit accusing the congregation of violating regulations. The lawsuit requested crippling civil penalties of $1,000 per day per alleged infraction. Infractions included the congregation’s lack of 13 off-street parking spaces and one disabled parking space—despite the fact that members of the congregation do not drive on their Sabbath or Jewish holidays.

With no other place to walk to worship on the Sabbath, families would have to move their residences, and the congregation’s religious life would be ended.

“One group of city officials shouldn’t prevent a diverse city like Dallas from welcoming this small Jewish congregation,” Chelsey Youman, counsel for First Liberty stated.

First Liberty Institute Seeks Variance for Congregation

After working with the City of Dallas to resolve any concerns about using the small congregation’s property for religious purposes, CTC agreed to seek a variance with the Dallas Board of Adjustment to resolve any parking concerns.

The city ordinance the Board of Adjustment is tasked with “adjusting” permits the use of property for religious reasons. And, further, both the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA) and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) prevent the city from imposing a “substantial burden” upon the congregation without a compelling justification. But, even though the law is clear and the congregation has made multiple alternate arrangements for its 20 or so members to park outside the neighborhood, the Board of Adjustment refused to issue the parking variance.

“We only want to do what is right and good for all. The City of Dallas has left us no choice. It is my hope that the courts will protect our right to worship G-d as proscribed by our faith in our current location,” said CTC’s Rabbi Yaakov Rich.

Press Release
For Immediate Release: May 3, 2018
Contact:Chris Freund, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 469-440-7566

Small Jewish Congregation Files Lawsuit Against City of Dallas Over Religious Discrimination

Decision by Dallas Board of Adjustment to deny a parking variance for a small Jewish congregation that does not drive on the Sabbath leads to lawsuit


Dallas, Texas—A lawsuit filed byFirst Liberty Institute and its network attorneys at Winston & Strawn, LLP in response to Dallas city officials’ imposition of unreasonable parking regulations against the small Orthodox Jewish synagogue, Congregation Toras Chaim (CTC), was accepted today by the Collin County District Court.  Members—about 25 in total—of the small Orthodox Jewish congregation located in North Dallas do not drive on their Sabbath.

To read the complaint, click here.

“City officials have failed to follow the laws that protect this small congregation from unreasonable regulations,” said Chelsey Youman, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Dallas is a diverse city that should welcome this small Jewish congregation and protect its ability to operate. But, unless a court intervenes, CTC will be forced from city limits.”

CTC has been meeting in a North Dallas home since 2013, much like others who meet in their homes for a Bible study, small group meeting, game night, or book club. At the City’s request and in an effort to meet all City requirements, CTC applied for a parking variance. The variance would enable CTC to continue meeting in its Dallas neighborhood home. Just over ten days ago, the Dallas Board of Adjustment rejected CTC’s parking variance application, denying the congregation their basic religious liberty rights.

Attorneys with First Liberty argue that the decision by city officials imposes unnecessarily burdensome parking regulations on CTC, violating city, state, and federal laws—including a Dallas ordinance that permits CTC to use its property for religious reasons.

“CTC cooperated with the city throughout in trying to find a solution that would allow it to continue worshiping at its location,” added Chad Walker, a partner with Winston & Strawn. “Now CTC is asking the courts to apply the law to the City of Dallas to protect this small congregation.”

“We only want to do what is right and good for all. The City of Dallas has left us no choice. It is my hope that the courts will protect our right to worship G-d as proscribed by our faith in our current location,” said CTC’s Rabbi Yaakov Rich.

To access video interviews related to this case, click here.  For complete complaint file click here.

Learn more at FirstLiberty.org/TorasChaim.

TO download a copy of this press release, click here.

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About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Instituteis the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact Chris Freund at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 469-440-7566.

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