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Lawsuit Alleges Systematic Discrimination Forcing Orthodox Jewish Community Underground

December 11, 2018

AIRMONT, N.Y., Dec. 11, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Today, First Liberty Institute 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 of Airmont, New York 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.

Read the lawsuit here.

“Thirty years of religious bigotry are enough,” Hiram Sasser, General Counsel of First Liberty Institute said. “The Orthodox Jewish community of Airmont just wants to be left alone to peacefully worship and coexist but Airmont officials are openly hostile.”

Residents forced to ask the permission of village officials to use their home for worship are put through a substantially burdensome process. The Application process devised by village officials forces residents to spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years to complete a never-ending approval process.

First Liberty client, Rabbi David Ribiat, has paid more than $40,000 in related fees during a two and a half year process that has included multiple delays with no resolution. Earlier this year, Rabbi Moishe Berger, also represented by First Liberty, faced the prospect of a year in jail for simply welcoming his neighbors into his home for prayer.

Stephen C. Dillard, partner at Norton Rose Fulbright said, “The actions of Airmont officials frustrate, discourage, and outright deny the rights of its citizens to freely exercise their faith. These actions are unlawful and egregious and cannot be allowed to continue.”

A History of Discrimination

The Village of Airmont incorporated in 1991, and its discriminatory zoning policies have been the subject of civil rights lawsuits spanning five different presidential administrations. The same year of its inception, then U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr filed suit against Airmont for religious discrimination against the Orthodox community.

That lawsuit was resolved in 1995 during the Clinton administration when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded, “there was evidence that the events leading to the incorporation of the town and the implementation of its zoning code amply support a finding that the impetus [to form the town and implement the Code] was not a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason but rather an animosity toward Orthodox Jews as a group.”

Another federal lawsuit against Airmont, filed in 2005, ended with a Consent Decree in which the Village promised the federal government that it would not use zoning laws to disrupt the religious exercise of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Since that Consent Decree expired in 2011, the Village has returned to its discriminatory practices.

“Airmont’s actions are undeniably a burden on the religious exercise of our clients,” said Keisha Russell, Associate Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “The First Amendment and federal law protect the right of Americans to pray together in their homes free from unreasonable and intrusive government interference like we’ve seen in Airmont.”

Other First Liberty clients on the complaint include Rabbi Abraham Horowitz and Airmont resident Chaim Cahan.

To learn more about Airmont, go to FirstLiberty.org/Airmont

About First Liberty Institute First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans. To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at media@firstliberty.org or by calling 972-941-4453.

Contact:Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org Direct: 972-941-4453

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