Village of Airmont, NY | Cases | First Liberty
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Welcome to Airmont, NY, a village born in bigotry

The New York Times and others have documented Airmont’s infamous, 30-year history of discrimination. The Village of Airmont incorporated in 1991, and its discriminatory zoning policies have been the subject of civil rights lawsuits spanning five different presidential administrations.  The same year of its inception, President George H.W. Bush’s then-Attorney General of the United States William P. Barr filed suit against Airmont for religious discrimination against the Orthodox community.

That lawsuit was resolved in 1995 during the Clinton administration when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded, “there was evidence that the events leading to the incorporation of the town and the implementation of its zoning code ‘amply support a finding that the impetus [to form the town and implement the Code] was not a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason but rather an animosity toward Orthodox Jews as a group.”

Another federal lawsuit against Airmont, filed in 2005, ended with a Consent Decree in which the Village promised the federal government that it would not use zoning laws to disrupt the religious exercise of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Since that Consent Decree expired in 2011, the Village has returned to its discriminatory practices.

Despite federal courts repeatedly penalizing Airmont, city officials continue its policy of government enforced religious discrimination.

Zoning used against peaceful worship

Orthodox Judaism prohibits believers from driving on the Sabbath or on holidays.  That is why worshippers gather in small numbers in homes that are within walking distance of one another.  The religious residents of Airmont simply want to be left alone to peacefully worship and coexist without fear of criminal punishment.  Unfortunately, it appears that city officials in Airmont have returned to their old ways of discrimination against the Jewish community.

Residents forced to ask the permission of village officials to use their home for worship are put through a substantially burdensome process.  The application process devised by village officials forces residents to spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years to complete.

“Airmont’s actions are undeniably a burden on the religious exercise of our clients,” said Keisha Russell, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The First Amendment and federal law protect the right of Americans to pray together in their homes free from unreasonable and intrusive government interference like we’ve seen in Airmont.”

First Liberty client, Rabbi David Ribiat, has paid more than $40,000 in related fees during a two-and-a-half-year process that has included multiple delays with no resolution. Earlier this year, Rabbi Moishe Berger, also represented by First Liberty, faced the prospect of a year in jail for simply welcoming his neighbors into his home for prayer.

For several months, First Liberty investigated a number of potentially illegal practices of the Village, which lead to the filing of a lawsuit.

Despite repeated efforts by the United States Department of Justice and the courts over the past 30 years, Airmont officials have used local zoning laws to deny Orthodox Jewish residents their constitutional right to pray together in their homes.

“Thirty years of religious bigotry are enough,” Hiram Sasser, General Counsel of First Liberty Institute said.  “The Orthodox Jewish community of Airmont just wants to be left alone to peacefully worship and coexist but Airmont officials are openly hostile.”

NEWS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: 12.11.18
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Cell: 972-941-4453

Lawsuit Alleges Systematic Discrimination Forcing Orthodox Jewish Community Underground

Religious liberty firm’s lawsuit asserts Village officials unlawfully denying local Jewish community use of their own property for prayer, worship


Airmont, NY—Today, First Liberty Institute and the international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of several residents, including three Orthodox Jewish rabbis, alleging that the Village of Airmont, New York has engaged in systematic discrimination forcing Orthodox Jewish residents to practice their faith in hiding in a deliberate effort to dissuade them from staying in or moving to Airmont.

Read the lawsuit here.

“Thirty years of religious bigotry are enough,” Hiram Sasser, General Counsel of First Liberty Institute said.  “The Orthodox Jewish community of Airmont just wants to be left alone to peacefully worship and coexist but Airmont officials are openly hostile.”

Residents forced to ask the permission of village officials to use their home for worship are put through a substantially burdensome process.  The Application process devised by village officials forces residents to spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years to complete a never-ending approval process.

First Liberty client, Rabbi David Ribiat, has paid more than $40,000 in related fees during a two and a half year process that has included multiple delays with no resolution. Earlier this year, Rabbi Moishe Berger, also represented by First Liberty, faced the prospect of a year in jail for simply welcoming his neighbors into his home for prayer.

Stephen C. Dillard, partner at Norton Rose Fulbright said, “The actions of Airmont officials frustrate, discourage, and outright deny the rights of its citizens to freely exercise their faith. These actions are unlawful and egregious and cannot be allowed to continue.”

A History of Discrimination

The Village of Airmont incorporated in 1991, and its discriminatory zoning policies have been the subject of civil rights lawsuits spanning five different presidential administrations.  The same year of its inception, then U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr filed suit against Airmont for religious discrimination against the Orthodox community.

That lawsuit was resolved in 1995 during the Clinton administration when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded, “there was evidence that the events leading to the incorporation of the town and the implementation of its zoning code ‘amply support a finding that the impetus [to form the town and implement the Code] was not a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason but rather an animosity toward Orthodox Jews as a group.”

Another federal lawsuit against Airmont, filed in 2005, ended with a Consent Decree in which the Village promised the federal government that it would not use zoning laws to disrupt the religious exercise of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Since that Consent Decree expired in 2011, the Village has returned to its discrimatory practices.

“Airmont’s actions are undeniably a burden on the religious exercise of our clients,” said Keisha Russell, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The First Amendment and federal law protect the right of Americans to pray together in their homes free from unreasonable and intrusive government interference like we’ve seen in Airmont.”

Other First Liberty clients on the complaint include Rabbi Abraham Horowitz and Airmont resident Chaim Cahan.

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About First Liberty Institute

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

To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

To download this press release, please click here.


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