Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Airtuna08
The first northbound CR 85 reassurance sign shown just north of the NY/NJ border in Airmont, New York.

The New York village of Airmont in Rockland County is being sued by the US Department of Justice on behalf of Orthodox Jewish residents over zoning provisions the US Department of Justice says are discriminatory.

The US Attorney in the Southern District is accusing the village of using the zoning provisions – for the third time since 1991 – to prevent Jews from worshipping in private homes and from opening and running a religious Jewish school.

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Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement, “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.”

As alleged in the complaint, said Strauss, ‘Airmont has violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) by imposing land use and zoning provisions that, among other things, restrict Orthodox Jewish residents’ ability to worship in private homes and prevent operation of a private religious school.

‘The lawsuit marks the third time that the United States has sued Airmont since its 1991 incorporation for discriminatory treatment of Orthodox Jewish residents under both RLUIPA and the Fair Housing Act.

‘The first two lawsuits resulted in the entry of court judgments against the village – a judgment following a jury trial in 1996 and judgment pursuant to a court-entered consent decree in 2011.’

The current lawsuit, filed in White Plains Federal Court, alleges regulations imposed by Airmont – located 27 miles (43 kilometers) north of New York City — violate the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, according to the Acting US Attorney.

The village allegedly amended its zoning code in 2018 to strike “residential place of worship” as a recognized land use category, among other actions citied in the lawsuit. The amendment is a violation of the terms of the judgment entered by the court in 1996.

It’s time for Village of Airmont officials to reverse their unlawful decisions that keep our clients from peacefully practicing their faith in their homes,” said Keisha Russell, Counsel to First Liberty Institute. “With the assistance of the Department of Justice, we hope to put an end to Airmont’s practice of religious discrimination once and for all.”

In December of 2018, First Liberty and the international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of several residents, including three Orthodox Jewish rabbis, alleging that the Village has engaged in systematic discrimination forcing Orthodox Jewish residents to practice their faith in hiding in a deliberate effort to dissuade them from staying in or moving to Airmont.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Cha-Kim is in charge of the case.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.