Yesterday the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Village of Airmont “to rectify Airmont’s renewed efforts to discriminate against its Orthodox Jewish community.”
Agudath Israel has long protested the use of zoning laws to discriminate against Orthodox Jews and its Washington Office played an active role in crafting and promoting passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), under which this lawsuit was filed. RLUIPA authorizes the Department of Justice to commence an action against any local government that implements a land use regulation that places a substantial burden on religious exercise, discriminates on the basis of religion, or unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, and structures.
Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said about yesterday’s lawsuit: “As a jury found over two decades ago, the Village of Airmont was born out of a spirit of animus against a religious minority. Sadly, rather than working to overcome that shameful legacy, Airmont has flagrantly ignored the terms of a court judgment and implemented land use practices that by design and operation are again meant to infringe unlawfully on the rights of a minority religious community. Religious discrimination will not be tolerated. We will remain vigilant to ensure that the right to worship freely and without undue interference is protected for all.”
In the case of Airmont, it was Attorney General Barr’s decision to file a civil suit against Airmont for creating zoning laws with the intent to hamper the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community in the Village, during his first stint as Attorney General during the George H.W. Bush administration 30 years ago. In 2019, the Agudah raised the issue, again, with Mr. Barr, during its National Leadership Mission to Washington, who assured the group that his Justice Department would do everything it could to ensure American citizens are not ‘zoned out’ of neighborhoods because of their faith.
Agudath Israel is grateful that the Justice Department is prepared to take all steps necessary to fight religious discrimination and ensure religious liberty.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Washington Director, said, “RLUIPA protects the rights of religious communities around the country, and we are looking forward to a satisfactory resolution to this case. Agudath Israel and others worked so hard to get RLUIPA passed because we knew how valuable it would be in fighting actions that too often mask religious bias. Kudos to the Justice Department for rightfully making this a priority.”