California City Harasses Rabbi for Hosting Religious Gatherings in His Home

August 11, 2023
Prayer Police | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

We sent a letter this week on behalf of Rabbi Levi Illulian. The City of Beverly Hills, California is harassing and trying to prevent him from hosting religious gatherings in his home.

In June, city officials sent Rabbi Levi a “Notice of Violation” letter prohibiting all religious activity with non-residents at his property. However, the city allows other social gatherings of similar size in the same neighborhood. While neighbors can invite their relatives into their homes for a card game or dinner party, the city singles out Rabbi Levi for inviting friends and family to pray or celebrate Shabbat. The letter also threatens Rabbi Levi with civil and criminal proceedings.

Our attorneys are asking the city to immediately withdraw this letter. We explain that Rabbi Levi has a right under the First Amendment and federal law to worship in his home.

Rabbi Levi believes he has a religious obligation to make his home a sanctuary for God and hosts a variety of gatherings throughout the week to meet the religious needs of his family, neighbors and friends. He has lived at the residence since October 2022 and hosted gatherings for months without incident.

The Orthodox Jewish faith requires adherents to observe Sabbath—the Jewish day of rest that lasts from sundown on Friday evening through nightfall on Saturday night. During Shabbat, members traditionally join their family and friends to recite prayers and for meals prepared in accordance with their religious beliefs. Because their faith teaches to “make the Shabbat a delight,” many members of the Orthodox Jewish community tend to gather at the home of a family member or friend.  Additionally, many Jewish congregants cannot work or drive during the Sabbath.

Some neighbors complained about “parking, noise, and trash filling up.” But our letter sets the record straight. We point out that Rabbi Levi strives to keep his gatherings intimate and only invites people into his home as guests, not the general public. He even instructs guests to be courteous to others in the community. On days when people drive to his home, he tells them to park further away in order to avoid inconveniencing the neighbors.

The city itself conducted an investigation and concluded the neighbor’s complaints were unfounded and closed its case. But that hiatus was short-lived. The city reopened the investigation and is once again targeting Rabbi Levi, all because a few disgruntled and hostile residents don’t want him living out his faith.

City officials engaged in multiple stakeouts of the home over many hours, something one would only expect to happen in Orwellian novels or serious criminal investigations. The city even tallied the number of individuals and cars coming and going from the residence, and photographed guests.

What the city is doing is wrong and illegal. The home is one of the most sacred and protected spaces for the free exercise of religion. As our letter explains:

“Rabbi Illulian’s right to engage in religious exercise at his Home with family or friends, free from government burden and interference, is fully protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.”

The good news is that when First Liberty answers the call to defend people of faith from these attacks, we regularly succeed. Our record includes important wins for clients such as:

  • Congregation Toras Chaim, a small Jewish congregation that endured a five-year legal battle with Dallas, Texas, over alleged violations of parking regulations…even though members of the congregation do not drive on the Sabbath. First Liberty reached a settlement to secure a victory and stop the city’s harassment.
  • Heimish of Houston, a Jewish congregation that gathered for worship in a neighborhood home. The City of Houston, Texas, tried to use zoning laws to stop them from worshipping. First Liberty filed a lawsuit pointing out how discriminatory Houston’s restrictions were—and now the congregation is free to gather for service.

It’s unconscionable when government officials brazenly discriminate against Americans because of their religious beliefs. It’s time for Beverly Hills to stop harassing Rabbi Levi and acknowledge that he’s within his legal rights to engage in religious activities in his home. He should be able to worship in peace with his friends and family.

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