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3 Wins for Houses of Worship in Texas and California

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December 8, 2023
Church Victories | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 4 min read

Thanks to your support, we’re celebrating victories in several of our cases this week.

Addison City Council Approves Special Use Permit for White Rock Chapel

On Monday, the City Council of Addison, Texas unanimously approved a zoning application for our client White Rock Chapel, a historic church founded by freed slaves in 1884. The Texas Historical Commission designated the chapel a historic site in 2000.

A couple of years ago, White Rock Chapel applied for building permits to renovate its property. But the city refused to grant the permits and used zoning regulations to keep the church from living out its faith. Hostile neighbors also kept the church from making renovations.

“We are pleased that the Addison City Council recognizes the right of this historic African-American church to remain at this location as it has for more than 100 years,” First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys said, “and to continue to serve the needs of people in the surrounding areas.”

Dr. Don Wesson of White Rock Chapel said, “We are excited to have this issue settled and to continuing being a good community member, neighbor and civic partner.”

In September, we sent a letter to the city explaining that the First Amendment and federal law protect the right of churches to operate free from unreasonable and intrusive government interference. We argued the city council should grant the permit, as the church fulfilled all necessary requirements.

Thanks to this win, White Rock Chapel will now be able to make improvements to its historic property, gather for worship and Bible study, and serve its surrounding community.

Beverly Hills Officials Drop Sanctions Against Small Jewish Prayer Meetings

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, began on Dec. 7. Our client, Rabbi Levi Illulian, is also celebrating a win as this important religious holiday gets underway.

City officials in Beverly Hills, California withdrew a “Notice of Violation” against Rabbi Levi. That notice threatened the Rabbi with civil and criminal proceedings for hosting religious gatherings in his home to meet the religious needs of his family, neighbors and friends.

City officials have been investigating Rabbi Illulian’s religious exercise since March using increasingly invasive means, including surveilling individuals and cars coming and going from the home and flying a drone overhead. Alongside our volunteer attorneys at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, we sent two letters urging city officials to withdraw the notices and to stop surveilling the Rabbi’s home.

Elizabeth Kiernan of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher said, “We are grateful that the city recognizes that Rabbi Illulian has a constitutional right to engage in religious exercise at his home with family or friends, free from government burden and interference.”

“In light of what is happening to the Jewish community around the world, we need to be vigilant in protecting their religious liberty rights and safety here in the United States,” First Liberty attorney Ryan Gardner said. “First Liberty is here to do just that.”

Let There Be Light: Houston Synagogue Gets Electricity Restored

Heimish of Houston got some great news recently when Houston city officials announced that they would restore electricity to the congregation.

Last week, our attorneys filed for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the city, which refused to restore power to Heimish and red-flagged the congregation due to some minor repairs and beautification projects.

Within about 24 hours of filing the TRO, our legal team went before a federal judge and reached an agreement. Houston agreed to remove the obstacles, so that Heimish could have its power turned back on.

“Our clients are greatly relieved that they will not be forced to celebrate Hanukkah in the dark,” said First Liberty attorney Ryan Gardner.

“We love our community and have been more than willing to work with city officials to get the power to our synagogue restored,” said Michael Winkler, a founding member of the synagogue. “Our congregation will be delighted that they will be able to join together again.”

We are grateful for laws that protect houses of worship from unreasonable government interference with their religious exercise. In reaching this agreement to get the lights to be turned back on, this Jewish community will be able to worship peacefully and celebrate one of its most important religious holidays.

Thank you for supporting First Liberty. These victories are incredibly meaningful to those involved. Because of your ongoing support, we continue to restore faith and religious liberty in communities everywhere in America.

Fighting for Faith. Delivering Freedom | CYE | First Liberty Insider

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