Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, jointly filed an amicus curiae brief on Aug. 4 with leading Orthodox Jewish organizations in support of Chabad of East Boca Raton.
Agudath Israel joined Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters, the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America in submitting a brief written by noted Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
For the past ten years, the Gagliardi v. The City of Boca Raton, Fla. case has hindered Chabad of Boca Raton’s plans to build a new synagogue, on what are dubious legal grounds at best and outright anti-Semitism at worst. This case is unique as the city amended its zoning laws in 2008 to end the discriminatory practice of treating houses of worship differently from secular entities, but individual residents sued to prevent construction of the Chabad synagogue.
Despite two court victories in less than a year, Chabad of Boca is now battling its opponents’ appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Agudath Israel and amici signatories are keen to defend Chabad’s constitutional right to build a synagogue, a legal right repeatedly upheld by the courts despite purported church-state issues.
Agudath Israel played an active and decisive role in the passage of the landmark Religious Land Use and Incarcerated Persons Act (RLUIPA). That 2000 law blocks governmental bodies from imposing land-use regulations on organizations or individuals based on their religion, and also protects the exercise of religion by people in prison.
The brief argues that allowing the plaintiffs lawsuit – which claims that treating religious organizations fairly is a violation of the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights – to proceed, would turn RLUIPA on its head and make it harder for religious entities to get zoning variances and exceptions.
“It was for precisely such situations that RLUIPA was created and why Agudath Israel helped lead the charge for it,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel of America’s Vice President for Federal Affairs and Washington Director and Counsel.
“America’s Orthodox Jewish community stands united in its opposition to this frivolous and ill-motivated lawsuit and in full solidarity with Chabad of East Boca Raton,” added Rabbi Moshe Matz, director of Agudath Israel of Florida. “American Orthodox Jews are full citizens with the same right to construct a house of worship as U.S. citizens of any other faith, and we dare not be silent in the face of this attack on religious freedom.”
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