Village of Airmont, NY | Cases | First Liberty

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. In 1991, the same year of Airmont’s incorporation, the United States Department of Justice filed suit against the village because it had been incorporated for the purpose of excluding Jewish citizens, using zoning restrictions designed to prevent Jewish adherents from gathering for prayer within city limits. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that Airmont intentionally adopted a zoning scheme to deter Orthodox Jews from moving into many of the village’s neighborhoods.

More than a decade later, in 2005, the Department of Justice was forced to sue Airmont once again. This time, Airmont’s zoning scheme banned schools with residential facilities—boarding schools. The effect of the rule fell almost exclusively upon Orthodox Jewish yeshivas (Jewish boarding schools), preventing them from operating anywhere within the borders of Airmont. Ultimately, a federal district court entered a consent decree giving judicial enforcement to Airmont’s promise to abandon its discriminatory actions against religion in its land use decisions. The court’s jurisdiction over that consent decree expired in 2015.

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

Zoning used against Rabbi Berger

Rabbi Moishe Berger bought a home in Airmont in 2015 and began hosting others to pray together in his home. Orthodox Jewish tradition requires that believers live within walking distance of a gathering of at least ten others for regular prayer meetings. About 30 neighbors gather for about three hours each week, usually on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, to pray with Rabbi Berger.

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.

City officials in Airmont adopted a new zoning provision requiring residents to get the government’s approval before using their home for prayer meetings. Rabbi Berger approached city officials seeking that permission and ended up spending two and half years and approximately $20,000 in costs related to this application process. Rabbi Berger has still not received approval.

Instead, city officials ticketed Rabbi Berger for what it deemed unlawful use of a home for worship. First Liberty attorneys intervened, representing Rabbi Berger in court in June of 2018. While the court temporarily dismissed those charges, First Liberty continues its investigation into the next decade of religious discrimination by city officials in Airmont.

“We are currently investigating a number of potentially illegal practices of the Village,” Hiram Sasser, General Counsel for First Liberty says.  “Unfortunately, it appears that Airmont returned to its old ways of discrimination against the Orthodox Jewish community after the expiration of the consent decree. We hope that is not true but our comprehensive investigation is ongoing.”

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.

“The United States was founded on religious liberty, but the Village of Airmont appears to have been founded on religious bigotry,” says Keisha Russell, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The Village of Airmont has repeatedly ignored the federal laws protecting religious freedom. Thirty years of bigotry are enough.”

 

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release: June 7, 2018
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Cell: 972-941-4453

First Liberty Institute Defends Local Rabbi From Religious Discrimination by Village of Airmont Officials

Local Rabbi faces fine and jail time for praying with others in his own home


Airmont, NY—At a hearing this afternoon in the Village of Airmont court, attorneys with First Liberty Institute will represent a local rabbi, Moishe Berger, who has been ticketed for hosting prayer meetings in his home. The Village of Airmont has a long history of violating the religious liberty of its orthodox Jewish residents, dating back to its founding.

“Airmont has been in litigation almost since its inception because of its efforts to drive orthodox Jewish citizens underground,” said Keisha Russell, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “First Liberty Institute will pursue all available legal measures to protect our client and to put an end to the Village of Airmont’s government enforced religious discrimination once and for all. The Village of Airmont has ignored the federal laws protecting religious freedom. Thirty years of religious bigotry are enough.”

Members of a small Orthodox Jewish community have been meeting together for prayer in the home of Rabbi Berger. These gatherings were without incident until the Village brought charges against him for prayer meetings in his home. He now faces fines of up to $1000 and up to one year in jail for praying with others in his home without Airmont’s permission.

Airmont was incorporated in 1991.  The same year of its incorporation, the United States filed suit against Airmont alleging that the town had been incorporated for the purpose of excluding Jewish citizens through zoning restrictions on their places of worship. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District agreed. Then in 2005, the United States and different private plaintiffs sued Airmont again. The private plaintiff settled with Airmont. The dispute between the United States and Airmont settled in a Consent Decree.

The hearing will begin at 5:00 p.m. in the Airmont Village Hall at 251 Cherry Lane, Airmont, New York.

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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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Press Release – 06/07/2018

First Liberty Logo - Restoring Religious Liberty for All Americans

To The American Legion:

As a grateful citizen, I support your effort to honor those who have fallen in battle and to keep the Bladensburg WWI Veterans Memorial standing as a visible reminder of valor, sacrifice, endurance, and devotion.

Veterans memorials like the one in Bladensburg, MD are symbols reminding us of the sacrifice of our service members and the cost of war. Tearing down the Bladensburg Memorial would erase the memory of the 49 fallen heroes of Prince George’s County—like they never even existed.

We cannot allow the Bladensburg Memorial to be bulldozed.

Please know that you have my support and backing in your petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.