New York Jewish Communities Celebrate, 30 Years of Discrimination Come to an End

December 8, 2023
Airmont Victory | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

Amid the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war, there appears to be a new wave of threats and hatred against Jewish communities in the United States and across the globe. A scan of recent headlines shows serious discussion about the rise in anti-semitism. Several presidents from elite universities recently sparred with members of Congress during a hearing regarding anti-semitism on their campuses. The U.S. House passed a resolution condemning anti-semitism. FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that anti-semitism is reaching “historic levels” in the U.S.

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 is here to do just that.

With Hanukkah beginning this week, we’re happy to announce a victory in one of our most high-profile cases for Jewish Americans.

Exciting news! With Hanukkah underway, we’re happy to announce a victory in one of our most high-profile cases for Jewish Americans.

We recently reached a settlement with the Village of Airmont, New York. We secured a favorable agreement for our clients—several rabbis and their Orthodox Jewish congregations—who will now be able to worship freely in their homes.

This is a tremendously important win. It brings an end to 30 years of religious discrimination.

“Thirty years of government entrenched religious bigotry are over,” Executive General Counsel Hiram Sasser said. “The Orthodox Jewish community of Airmont just wants to be left alone to peacefully worship and coexist. We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Justice for its help in this matter, and we are appreciative of Village officials assisting in reaching this settlement.”

Located just north of New York City, the village of Airmont was established in 1991. For three decades, local officials essentially forced the local Orthodox Jewish community underground. Instead of making it easier for them to gather for worship, the village only made it harder.

Members of the Orthodox Jewish faith cannot drive on the Sabbath or on holidays. That’s why it’s common practice for them to gather in small numbers in homes within walking distance.

The home is one of the most sacred and protected spaces for the free exercise of religion. But, the village made it next to impossible for Orthodox Jewish believers to live out their faith. How? Through discriminatory zoning. These ordinances forced congregants to comply with outrageous demands, such as receiving “approval” from the city to worship in their own living rooms.

Our clients and other religious people endured bureaucratic run-arounds, red tape to obtain permits and approvals, and even threats. Local officials even had authority to measure space (including bookshelves) inside homes to determine the “proper amount” used for religious purposes.

In some cases, the village even penalized and ticketed them. At one point, a local rabbi faced over $40,000 in fees just trying to meet village demands. Others were even threatened with jail, just because they hosted religious gatherings at their residence.

First Liberty joined the fight for Airmont’s Jewish residents in 2018. Alongside our volunteer attorneys at Norton Rose Fulbright, we took the village to court. We filed a lawsuit arguing that it’s against federal and state laws to discriminate on the basis of religion.

But our legal fight was just the most recent. Airmont’s longstanding pattern of bigotry was under investigation for decades. The Justice Department (DOJ) began looking into it back in 1992, when then-U.S. Attorney William Barr filed a lawsuit against the village. When Barr was U.S. Attorney General, the DOJ filed another lawsuit in 2020.

Our recent settlement marks the second time we successfully represented Airmont’s religious communities. We fought and won a similar case involving an Orthodox Jewish day school, Central UTA of Monsey.

The school used its property for educational purposes as well as a day camp. But village officials repeatedly used discriminatory zoning to prevent Central UTA from operating. At one point, the local school district even denied transportation to Central UTA students. It also denied special-education services, even though it provided these same services to the other schools. We reached an amicable settlement in that case in 2020, allowing Central UTA to move forward and to be treated fairly when submitting applications with the village.

These victories have a huge impact for those involved. These religious Americans are getting their freedom back after years of fighting in court. They’re free once again to live out their faith without unreasonable government interference.

Thank you for supporting First Liberty. You helped us win in Airmont. It’s incredibly gratifying and meaningful that this case is now settled. This is a win for our clients, and a win for ALL Americans.

We should celebrate what we’ve accomplished together. But we also have an enormous amount of work ahead. Like our clients in Airmont, religious Americans across the country face serious discrimination. This is only one fight in a long list of cases we’re fighting right now.

You truly are a force multiplier and a difference maker. You share a crucial part in every one of these victories. Help us continue the winning streak. Give to First Liberty today.

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

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