ADL Urges Second Circuit to Reverse Lower Court Ruling in Case Alleging Discriminatory Efforts by Clarkstown to Thwart Purchase of Property by Orthodox Jewish School

The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) sought leave to file an amicus brief yesterday urging the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reverse a District Court decision that an Orthodox Jewish School did not have standing to bring its religious-discrimination and civil rights claims.

The underlying case, Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland v. Town of Clarkstown, et. al., alleges a pattern of discriminatory conduct by the Town of Clarkstown, in coordination with a group called Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhood (“CUPON”), to block an intended purchase by the Orthodox Jewish school – Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy (“ABY”) – by any means necessary. On appeal, ABY argues that it suffered clear injuries, in the form of both stigma and economic loss, when Clarkstown discriminated against it, prevented it from securing regulatory approval, and encouraged potential financiers to terminate their dealings with ABY.

“Over the past two decades, as Orthodox Jewish communities have looked for space to practice their faith in our region, ADL has been monitoring a disturbing rise in antisemitic animus, sometimes in the form of harassment and violence, and other times manifesting in more systemic and insidious ways, including in how municipalities have used zoning laws and other land use ordinances to burden and exclude Orthodox Jews,” said Scott Richman, ADL New York / New Jersey Regional Director. “Municipalities in our region have exploited these laws and ordinances to prevent Orthodox Jewish communities and institutions from purchasing properties in these towns, and this is precisely what ABY has alleged here – a clear pattern of discriminatory conduct by Clarkstown, in coordination with a group known to espouse antisemitic views, to thwart ABY’s purchase.”

“The District Court’s analysis in this case unfortunately offers municipalities a roadmap to discriminate through the zoning process and still evade judicial review,” continued Richman. “We urge the Court to carefully consider ABY’s allegations concerning indicators of discrimination in the context of similar exclusionary zoning practices by nearby municipalities. These land-use abuses to prevent Orthodox Jews from freely practicing their beliefs, if proven, are precisely what RLUIPA was enacted to combat.” 

ADL’s brief, prepared by the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, sets forth a history of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) and its intended purpose, summarizes the troubling pattern of anti-Orthodox exclusionary policy practices in New York and New Jersey localities, which have required intervention by the Department of Justice and State Attorneys General, and examines how the disturbing allegations in Clarkstown mirror the land-use actions taken by other municipalities in this region that were the subject of those enforcement actions.

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