East Boca Raton Chabad wins federal lawsuit

Displayed with permission from San Diego Jewish World

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BOCA RATON, Fla- For the second time in less than a year, a federal court in Florida rejected a lawsuit and gave a local Jewish congregation a crucial win on the road to building their synagogue, just weeks before Passover.

After a decade of fighting for a house of worship, Jews in Boca Raton have now defeated a hostile attempt to prevent them from building their synagogue. Two local landowners, ignoring unanimous city council approval for the synagogue, filed a lawsuit claiming that allowing the synagogue would discriminate against them as Christians. But the city ordinance explicitly benefits all faith groups, not just the synagogue, and local Christian congregations strongly supported the synagogue.

“After years of patience and perseverance, the Chabad has now removed a big barrier to building a home for their congregation,” said Daniel Blomberg, legal counsel at Becket, which represents the Chabad of East Boca Raton. “It’s sad that some people would rather have a tattoo parlor or a liquor store in their community than a synagogue. Despite ugly anti-religious hostility toward the Chabad, it’s an inspiration to see their undaunted commitment to move forward.”
The Chabad of East Boca Raton is an Orthodox Jewish center that provides religious worship, outreach, and educational services. Since 2007, it has encountered heavy, well-financed opposition to its attempt to build a new center for its growing congregation. After the city unanimously approved the Chabad’s synagogue plan, opposing groups launched a website containing anti-Semitic posts. In fact, the lawsuit against the synagogue admitted that some of the opposition was openly anti-Semitic (though the plaintiffs themselves said that they were not hostile toward Jews).

The Chabad also suffered a string of attacks in the last few years, including the destruction and theft of glass mezuzahs that contain sacred scripture, a smashed synagogue door, and physical assault against a teenage member of the synagogue who was told to “go back to Auschwitz” and that “Hitler was right.”

The court’s opinion today noted that even the landowners admitted that some of the opposition to the Chabad was “motivated by religious animus.” The court ruled that there was no problem with allowing the Chabad to build. To the contrary, the Chabad won because the landowners never “alleg[ed] to have suffered the injuries that the [Constitution] exists to protect against.” The court sternly reminded the plaintiffs that “not every unfavorable… zoning decision rises to the level of a constitutional violation.”

“This long battle against the synagogue attacks everyone’s religious liberty,” said Blomberg. “Fortunately, the court’s ruling puts that behind us. It’s time to let the Chabad build.”

The Chabad of East Boca Raton, Inc. is represented by Becket, Kirkland & Ellis, and Weiss, Handler & Cornwell.

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