DOJ sues New York village for religious discrimination against Orthodox Jews
AIRMONT, New York, December 3, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday announced a lawsuit against the village of Airmont in the state of New York for “targeting” the local Orthodox Jewish community, making it “impossible” for its members to have private home worship and run their own schools.
“Targeting Orthodox Jewish individuals for the purpose of excluding them from a community is both illegal and a direct assault on this Nation’s fundamental values. This unlawful anti-Semitic conduct is wholly unacceptable in the United States of America, and the U.S. Department of Justice will not tolerate it,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division in the DOJ press release.
“In this country, states, towns, and villages cannot make or enforce any law that abridges the privileges or immunities of American citizens, nor can they deny to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The lawsuit, which the DOJ is filing on behalf of the local Orthodox Jewish community, alleges that Airmont has been enforcing its local zoning laws in “a discriminatory manner.” The village restricted the community’s rights to use their land for religious purposes, violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in the process., according to the complaint.
“The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrined these principles in our law, and the Congress extended them when it enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Zoning ordinances that seek to exclude people and organizations because of their religion violate the law,” said Dreiband.
RLUIPA is a 2000 federal law that is designed to protect religious institutions such as Airmont’s local Orthodox Jews from “unduly burdensome or discriminatory land use regulations.”
This is the third time since 1991 — the year Airmont was incorporated — that it has faced a lawsuit from the U.S. federal government for violating religious freedoms.
Airmont has a population of around 9,000 people and has lost both of its previous federal lawsuits. As a result, the village was given stiff fines and had its zoning code constrained.
The 19-page complaint filed against Airmont in the Southern District of New York states, “From its inception as an independent municipality three decades ago, the village of Airmont has been tainted by discriminatory animus against Orthodox Jews.”
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss said that Airmont has a “shameful legacy” after it 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,” said Strauss.