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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Synagogue May Avoid Being Forced To Move Thanks To Religious Freedom Restoration Act

There is a new fight in the battle for religious freedom and it demonstrates how the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was meant to be used. Congregation Toras Chaim is a tiny Orthodox Jewish Synagogue which meets in a home in north Dallas. The City of Dallas is attempting to shut the synagogue down because they are meeting in a private home without the correct Certificate of Occupation (CO). However, the Synagogue's attorney says the city’s ordinance requiring the CO is invalid under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The synagogue's congregation has been meeting in the home for three years. The location was chosen because it is in the community where the congregants, who live as Orthodox Jews, are forbidden to drive on the Sabbath and major holidays.

According to The Liberty Institute, which is representing the synagogue, they won against the original lawsuit filed to close the house of worship down, which was brought against them in county court. The lawsuit was filed after the one neighbor who objected to the synagogue became the head of the Dallas Homeowner's association.
They recently won a legal victory against the former president of a Dallas Homeowner’s Association (HOA) and the HOA. As Liberty Institute argued in court and the judge agreed, Texas and federal laws protect the group’s right to private worship, study and prayer. However, just weeks after the families won in the HOA case, the City of Dallas announced they were dragging the Congregation back into court. Liberty Institute continues to represent the Jewish families in this costly fight for the congregation’s survival in the City of Dallas.
On Monday, The Liberty Institute filed a counter claim against the City of Dallas for Toras Chaim, which not only stated that the religious liberty of the worshippers was being attacked, but also asked for a change in venue back to county court as the synagogue, the claimants and the congregants all resided in Collin County.

​This small Jewish congregation is being victimized by unreasonable regulation and litigation,” said Justin Butterfield, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel. “We are very optimistic that the courts will affirm that that city cannot restrict religious exercise without compelling reasons. The First Amendment of the Constitution gives ironclad protection to the free exercise of religion as every American’s first and highest right.

The Dallas Morning News' City Hall Blog adds:
The congregation has filed a counter-suit demanding $100,000, including attorney’s fees. Congregation Toras Chaim — referred to throughout the litigation as “CTC” — says the city’s ordinance requiring the CO is invalid under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“To the extent that the City of Dallas’s effective denial of CTC’s certificate of occupancy was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and unduly burdensome on CTC,” says the countersuit, “the ordinance is invalid as its application to CTC was a clear abuse of the City of Dallas’s municipal discretion.”
Notice nothing to do with Gay Marriage or pizza. This is a Religious freedom case where the local government is putting undue pressure on a religious institution and the RFRA is being used to protect the place of worship.


Jeff Dunetz said...

The Chabad of Oak Park in California has the exact same issue. An evangelical Christian lawyer represented them pro bono and using the federal RFRA (Commiefornia does not have its own RFRA), he prevented the shuddering of the shul. However, the Ventura County supervisors are still looking for ways to shut them down. Most of the complaints are coming from Jews in the neighbor that are NOT orthodox. In fact, one "Jewish" neighbor, stood outside one Shabbos and counted the number of cars and people entering the shul/home. Nice neighbor.

Jeff Dunetz said...

So now the government wants to control what you do in your own home. How long before they require a permit to hold a family gathering at a member's home?