Houston Cuts Power and Leaves Jewish Congregation in the Dark

December 1, 2023
Houston Cuts Power to Jewish Congregation | First Liberty Insider

by Jorge Gomez • 3 min read

Hanukkah—the Jewish Festival of Lights—is set to begin on Dec. 7. But ahead of this important religious holiday, a small Orthodox Jewish congregation in Houston, Texas is fighting to get its electricity turned back on.

This week, our attorneys filed for a temporary restraining order against Houston city officials after they refused to restore power to our clients, Heimish of Houston.

“The city’s actions are punitive and unfair,” said Ryan Gardner, Senior 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 and cold in the middle of the winter with major religious festivals like Hanukkah just around the corner.”

Heimish of Houston has been meeting in a home near its congregants for several years. Its members are limited to holding religious gatherings in their communities and within walking distance because their religious beliefs prevent them from driving on the Sabbath.

Recently, the congregation suffered a significant malfunction of its electrical equipment that resulted in a loss of power to its property. The city, however, has refused to issue the necessary permit to restore their electricity. Why? Because Heimish was “red-flagged” due to some minor repairs and beautification projects.

Although Heimish of Houston is working to address the 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. What’s more, the process of rectifying and addressing the permitting issues will take more than 30 days. However, Hanukkah begins on Dec. 7 and without power, the congregation will not be able to host its annual celebration and ceremony.

This isn’t the first time First Liberty has stepped in to defend this congregation. In recent years, the city repeatedly showed antagonism towards Heimish’s use of its residential property for religious purposes.

In 2020, the city attempted to shut down Heimish’s use of its property through the selective enforcement of a deed restriction. First Liberty filed a federal lawsuit arguing the city’s actions were discriminatory and unlawful. We pointed out that the city was clearly treating Hemish more harshly, as many other businesses and houses of worship operated in the same neighborhoods, including a rehab house, a Ghanaian church, a hair salon, and more. In 2021, we secured a victory for Heimish when the city abandoned its enforcement efforts.

Houston’s actions toward Heimish are illegal. Federal and state laws robustly protect houses of worship from unreasonable government interference with their religious exercise.

Refusing to restore power to a house of worship ahead of a major religious holiday is wrong. Religious discrimination of this kind should not happen in America. City officials should do what’s right and allow the lights to be turned back on so this Jewish community can worship in peace.

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