New York Village Officials Attempt to Take Jewish Congregation’s Property

July 22, 2022
FLI Insider | NY Seizes Church

by Jorge Gomez • 6 min read

First Liberty recently filed suit against the Village of Atlantic Beach, New York, seeking to halt its effort to seize property owned by a small Jewish congregation through eminent domain. We filed the motion alongside our volunteer attorneys at Sidley Austin LLP and the Harvard Law School Religious Freedom Clinic.

Chabad of the Beaches purchased a property in Atlantic Beach, located on Long Island, to build a Jewish community center. However, within weeks of buying the property, and just two weeks after the Chabad used the property to celebrate Hannukah, Village officials announced plans to take the property, claiming they needed it to build their own community center.

The Village’s actions are suspicious. It showed no interest in acquiring the property until after it was purchased by Jewish residents. The property was vacant for three years and for sale for more than a year. During that entire time, a “For Sale” sign was visibly posted on the front yard and was listed for sale on MLS, Redfin, Zillow, and other real estate websites. The Village made no effort to purchase the property when it was available.

What’s more, the Village already owns multiple alternative properties better suited to a community center and lifeguard operations facility. Those, however, were never considered.

As our attorneys point out:

“The Village’s violation of Chabad’s constitutional rights is irreparably harming the organization and…the Village has no legitimate interest in pursuing so plainly an unlawful course of conduct and that there is no true urgency to the Village’s plans, as demonstrated by the Village’s year-plus of inaction and, indeed, the decades it has gone without a community center or lifeguard operations facility.”

The government must have a very compelling reason to seize a religious organization’s property. It should only use its power to seize property through eminent domain when absolutely necessary. That’s not the case here. This is not a neutral act by an indifferent city council. It is religious discrimination.

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

  • Light of the World Gospel Ministries, a vibrant church in Walthill, Nebraska. We represented them in a lawsuit against local officials over denials of building and use permits. First Liberty reached a favorable settlement that will allow the church to build a multi-use facility for worship, ministry and commercial space to serve all village residents.
  • Canaan Baptist Church, a small congregation that ministers on the south side of Dallas, Texas. Despite the church’s ministry and outreach to the local community, city officials tried to seize the church’s property through eminent domain. First Liberty stepped in, and the city announced it would no longer seek to take the property.
  • 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.
  • Capitol Hill Baptist Church, in Washington, D.C., and New Life South Coast in New Bedford, Massachusetts, were subject to discriminatory pandemic restrictions even as businesses opened and large gatherings and protests in their areas were allowed to take place. First Liberty filed lawsuits on their behalf, and now both congregations are free to meet.

It’s unconscionable that government officials would brazenly attempt to take away this congregation’s property. Houses of worship in America should not be subject to this type of discrimination. It’s time for Village officials to stop targeting Chabad of the Beaches and leave this religious community alone so they can worship in peace.

As First Liberty continues to defend Chabad of the Beaches, we need YOUR support to restore their religious freedom and put a stop to the village’s unlawful actions. Please donate to First Liberty today, so we can keep defending houses of worship across the country from aggressive attacks.

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