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Breaking: Approaching Hannukah, Small Jewish Synagogue Seeks Restraining Order After Houston Officials Cut Power

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November 30, 2023

Breaking: Approaching Hannukah, Small Jewish Synagogue Seeks Restraining Order After Houston Officials Cut Power
Same synagogue had to sue Houston officials in past seeking permission to meet; without power now as “festival of lights” approaches.

Houston, TX—First Liberty Institute and the Burke Law Group PLLC filed for a temporary restraining order against Houston city officials who refuse to restore power to a small Orthodox Jewish synagogue, Heimish of Houston.  In 2020, the city attempted to shut down Heimish’s use of the synagogue through the selective enforcement of a deed restriction.

You can read the complaint here.

“The city’s actions are punitive and unfair,” said Ryan Gardner, Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The city’s refusal to cooperate with Heimish has substantially burdened this small congregation’s free exercise of their religion as they are left to worship in the dark with major religious festivals like Hanukkah just around the corner.”

Ryan Hiepler, associate at Burke Law Group PLLC added, “The law is clear that the City must have a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means when burdening a religious group like this. Completely cutting off electricity to a synagogue during the coldest period of the year with no ability to quickly turn it back on over a small permitting violation is as restrictive as it gets.”

Heimish of Houston has been meeting in a building near its congregants for several years.  The members of Heimish are limited to holding religious gatherings in their communities because of their religious prohibition against driving on the Sabbath.  In recent years, the city repeatedly exhibited antagonism towards Heimish’s use of the synagogue in a residential neighborhood for religious purposes.  After Heimish filed a lawsuit in 2021, the city abandoned its efforts against Heimish.

More recently, the synagogue suffered a significant malfunction of its electrical equipment that resulted in a loss of power to its property.  However, because Heimish was red-tagged due to some minor repairs and beautification that it was not aware it needed to be permitted, the city has refused to issue the necessary permit to restore their electricity.  Although Heimish of Houston is working to address the red-tag issues, the lack of electrical power to the synagogue in the meantime is preventing its ability to conduct religious ceremonies at its place of worship.  Moreover, the City informed Heimish that the process of rectifying and addressing the permitting issues will take more than 30 days. However, Hanukkah begins on December 7. Without power, the synagogue will not be able to host any religious gatherings, including for Hanukkah.

The complaint states, “This enforcement by the City has substantially burdened Heimish and its member’s free exercise of their religion as they are left to worship in the dark and cold in the middle of the winter with major religious festivals like Hanukkah . . . just around the corner.”

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

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