No Jews Allowed?

Hasidic Jews are prohibited by Jewish law from driving to a synagogue on the Sabbath. But because of new municipal zoning laws, Hasidic Jews in Airmont, New York, may also be prohibited from meeting in their own neighborhood.

The Hasidim began moving into Airmont three years ago. In April 1991, the village seceded from the town of Ramapo, incorporated as a separate municipality, and redrew zoning laws to prevent construction of synagogues in residential neighborhoods.

“It’s the first time we’re aware of when a city has formed a municipality with the express purpose of using zoning laws to exclude religious groups. The officials ran on that platform,” said Larry Crane of the Rutherford Institute, which monitors threats to religious freedom. The institute has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Hasidic rabbi and four of his congregants, charging Airmont with violating the Fair Housing Act and requesting the dissolution of the municipality.

The Justice Department, which was also filing suit against Airmont, has agreed to consolidate its case with that of the Rutherford Institute. It marks the first time the Justice Department has ever intervened on behalf of Orthodox Jews or any other religious group, Crane said.

Airmont officials deny charges of religious intolerance. They told the Chicago Tribune that the Hasidim do not participate in the community’s cultural life and are “maligning the village to advance their own development plans.”

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Court Bars Grad Prayers

Church/state observers were surprised late last month when a deeply divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that invocations and benedictions offered at public high-school graduation ceremonies violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. ...

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