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Federal Appeals Panel Finds Orthodox Jewish Academy was Discriminated Against when the Academy Attempted to Purchase a Property

Being able to purchase and use property in the ways you desire is no simple task.

Recently, a U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit panel (“the Second Circuit panel”) found city officials in Clarkstown, New York, (“the city”) conspired with a citizens group to block an Orthodox Jewish school’s plan to purchase church property and secured town approval for an all-girls school.

In a published opinion, the Second Circuit panel sided with the claims of Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland that Clarkstown officials violated the congregation’s First Amendment rights. Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy (“the Academy”) wanted to buy a closed Baptist Church property and build a K-12 school for 450 girls. In 2018, the Academy tried to purchase the 30,000-square-foot property for $5 million but was denied a building permit application. After denying application, the Rabbit leading the purchase lost key funding and became ill. Eventually, the city itself purchased the property.

Opposition came from locals who formed a unit of Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods Inc. (“CUPON”). The Academy argued in their initial brief that city officials and other land-use boards, along with CUPON, worked to block the sale and development of the girls school.

In July 2022, U.S. District Judge Nelson Roman ruled the academy’s claims of religious discrimination were premature under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act, known as RLUIPA. Judge Roman ruled that any argument town officials in question were discriminatory was purely speculative since the land-use decision had not been finalized. The Academy appealed the decision. In their appeal, the Academy argued violations of RLUIPA, the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the New York Constitution.

In the recently published decision, the Second Circuit panel sent the case back to the district court and agreed with the Academy, finding the town and CUPON “manipulated an ostensibly neutral building permit application and zoning appeals process.”

At Dalton & Tomich, we have experienced land-use attorneys who can tackle any problems your congregation may face with your desired property. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call our office.  

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