Agudath Israel has filed a motion in Federal District Court to intervene as a co-defendant in a lawsuit against the Village of Chestnut Ridge. The lawsuit followed the Village’s adoption of an ordinance that would give greater flexibility for building houses of worship within the Village.
Prior to the adoption of the ordinance, the Village’s zoning laws made it practically impossible to build a shul or other house of worship in Chestnut Ridge. Rigid requirements, such as demanding a minimum of 5 acres on which to build, ensured that observant Jews who are prohibited from driving on Shabbos and Yom Tov were effectively “zoned out” of the Ramapo village.
Under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal a law passed in 2000, it is illegal for a municipality to “impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution.” In a courageous move in November 2019, under the leadership of Mayor Rosario “Sam” Presti, the Village relied upon RLUIPA to adopt a new, three-tier zoning system for houses of worship that allows greater flexibility for synagogues while respecting the village’s rural character.
The mayor’s move was welcomed by Agudath Israel, Orthodox Jews in Chestnut Ridge, and citizens across this nation who hold religious liberties dear. However, a vocal minority within Chestnut Ridge fiercely opposed the change. A group known as “CUPON” (Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods) sued the village to declare the new law void, accusing the village of not adhering to environmental laws, among other legalities. A judge dismissed half of CUPON’s complaints immediately while allowing the suit to move forward on the remaining charges.
On July 9th, Agudath Israel, together with a number of local shuls, filed a motion to intervene as co-defendants in the lawsuit. Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the organization’s executive vice president, explained, “Agudah is no stranger to religious bigotry. As Orthodox Jews move into new neighborhoods, they all-too-often encounter resistance. We applaud Mayor Presti’s willingness to welcome Chestnut Ridge’s religious citizens, and we stand with them as they face legal action for daring to allow shuls to exist within the Village boundaries.”
Rabbi Zwiebel further noted that Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Washington Director, was instrumental in getting RLUIPA signed into law. “The Agudah has played a key role in the passage of federal legislation prohibiting zoning boards from discriminating against religious institutions,” he said. “The legislation protects the rights of religious communities around the country, and we are looking forward to a satisfactory resolution to this case.”