The Department of Justice (DOJ) has confirmed the resolution of a lawsuit against the village of Airmont, citing discrimination towards its Orthodox Jewish residents.
The 2018 revision of Airmont’s zoning code allegedly made it challenging for Orthodox Jewish residents to practice their faith in their residences. This lawsuit marks the third time since 1991 that the U.S. has pursued legal action against Airmont for discriminatory actions against its Orthodox Jewish community.
According to the consent decree, there will be an expanded allowable space within private homes for worship. Restrictions that previously limited who could be invited into homes for prayer have been removed. Moreover, the prolonged and arbitrary application procedure, which essentially hindered even minor house modifications, has been terminated.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke stated that zoning regulations intentionally obstructing religious practices violate federal laws. She emphasized the commitment of the DOJ to protect religious freedom, “The Justice Department will tirelessly defend the right of all faiths and religions to worship in the manner consistent with their religious beliefs and traditions.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams voiced concerns over the repetitive nature of these allegations against Airmont. While expressing satisfaction over the settlement, he pointed out that the recurrent legal confrontations underscore the office’s commitment to safeguarding religious minority rights.
Coinciding with the 23rd anniversary of the RLUIPA’s signing, the DOJ announced a series of public events, starting with an outreach event at Seton Hall Law School in Newark, New Jersey, on October 30th. The intention is to provide an understanding of RLUIPA, its enforcement, and ways to report violations.
Furthermore, the DOJ introduced the Place to Worship Initiative in June 2018. This initiative emphasizes RLUIPA provisions safeguarding the rights of religious establishments to worship on their properties. RLUIPA empowers the department to act against any local governing body that enforces land use regulations undermining religious freedom.
For those who suspect they have faced religious discrimination in land or zoning decisions, they are encouraged to reach out to the Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section or file a complaint via the Place to Worship Initiative website. Comprehensive details on RLUIPA can be found on the Justice Department’s official website.