Thursday, August 4, 2016

NJ Yeshivah Fights Zoning Denial in Federal Appeals Court

 Hamodia-In a case that has garnered much attention, Yeshivah Naos Yaakov’s ongoing battle to build its new campus in New Jersey’s Ocean Township has reached the federal appeals court in Trenton, where the first round of hearings already took place. While the township vigorously insists that the decision to block construction was based purely on neutral ordinances, supporters of the yeshivah argue that the permit denial was driven by general animus to the increasing presence of Orthodox Jews in towns surrounding Lakewood.

“This is bigotry masked as a zoning hearing, pure and simple,” said Roman P. Storzer, attorney for the yeshivah, in advance of the proceedings. “The situation that the yeshivah has faced here is exactly why Congress decided that RLUIPA’s protections are necessary.”

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a 2000 bill, focuses on preventing government from placing “substantial burdens on the free exercise of religion,” particularly as it pertains to zoning laws and prisoners.

The yeshivah, which is led by Harav Shlomo Feivel Schustal, has maintained a dorm in nearby Lakewood since its inception several years ago. However, recent growth made it necessary to acquire larger and more permanent housing facilities, leading to the purchase of a property in Ocean Township on Logan Road. Shortly after the application process began, though, the project became the target of widespread public opposition that frequently spilled into the use of anti-Semitic and anti-Orthodox rhetoric. Naos Yaakov’s legal briefs contain a collection of over 10 pages of such statements, largely gathered from blogs and social media. They are peppered with terms such as “religious zealots,” “locusts,” and “long coat gangsters,” in reference to the Orthodox community. [Hamodia]

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