The U.S. Department of Justice has initiated an investigation of Roosevelt and its zoning and landuse practices.
In a Dec. 28 letter to Bruce Shoulson (who represents the Yeshiva/Shul) R. Tamar Hagler, an attorney for the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division on behalf of Steven H. Rosenbaum, the chief of the Department of Justice, wrote that the investigation concerns Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah’s use of Congregation Anshei Roosevelt’s synagogue property on Homestead Lane.
The investigation seeks to determine whether the borough, in its zoning and land-use practices concerning the yeshiva and the synagogue, has violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) of 2000.
RLUIPA is a federal statute that affects local land-use regulations by setting forth a general rule that prohibits a local government from imposing or implementing land-use regulations in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on religious exercise unless the government can demonstrate that imposition of the burden furthers a compelling government interest through the least restrictive means.
Hagler wrote, “Our investigation is preliminary, and we have not made any determination as to whether there has been a violation of RLUIPA by the borough.”
Hagler also wrote that the department is currently in the process of obtaining information from the borough and asked the borough to supply the department with any information it believes would be helpful to the investigation.
The letter also stated that the department would like to speak with members of the yeshiva and possibly board members of Congregation Anshei Roosevelt.
“To that end, we would appreciate your assistance in facilitating meetings with such individuals, either by your compiling and providing us with a list of relevant names and contact information or, for those individuals whom you represent, coordinating such meetings,” Hagler wrote.
Congregation Anshei Roosevelt and Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah filed a federal lawsuit Aug. 27 against the borough. The lawsuit charges that the defendants violated RLUIPA and seeks to overturn a July 24 decision, which determined that the operation of the yeshiva on the synagogue’s property does not comply with borough zoning ordinances.
The borough and individuals named in the lawsuit have filed for a motion to dismiss based on claims including that the borough’s adoption of Ordinance 97-36 and the provisions of 42 USC 2000cc-3(e) should prevent the plaintiffs from invoking RLUIPA.