Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dissident Hasidic Faction Loses Establishment Clause Challenge To Town's Government

In Kiryas Joel Alliance v. Village of Kiryas Joel, (SD NY, Nov. 28, 2011), a New York federal district court dismissed a series of claims brought by a dissident faction within the Village of Kiryas Joel (NY), an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic enclave.  The court describes the claims as follows:
Plaintiffs ... bring this action alleging that the Village is a "theocracy," the affairs of which are so "inherently infused by, and entangled, with religion" that its "very existence" violates the Establishment Clause....
Behind the suit is a long-standing and much-litigated dispute between two factions of the Satmar Hasidim over which faction's rabbi should be the leader of the community. The dominant faction that controls the main synagogue (Congregation Yetev) and which holds political offices in the community is led by Grand Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum. (See prior related posting.)  Plaintiffs argue that the Establishment Clause has been violated because:
the Mayor of the Village holds a leadership position in Congregation Yetev, and ... his "dual religious and governmental roles" operate to establish an official faith becuase his religious beliefs trump his governmental role with respect to his actions as Mayor...; [and] all the other Village officials are members of Congregation Yetev, and therefore are controlled by the Grand Rebbe's dictates....
The court held, however that:
the Supreme Court held in McDaniel v. Paty ... that the Establishment Clause does not bar an individual from holding public office simply because he is a member of the Clergy.
The court also rejected on various pleading and procedural grounds-- including res judicata and standing-- several claims by plaintiffs alleging zoning and other actions by defendants that discriminate against the dissidents and their synagogue. However one claim rejected on standing grounds was dismissed without prejudice so it could be refiled with adequate allegations. That was a claim that the town's Community Room Law that requires builders to include a community room in residential developments violates the Establishment Clause because all but one of the community rooms is used as a synagogue.

The Hudson Valley Times Herald-Record and the Mid-Hudson News both report on the decision. [Thanks to Failed Messiah for the link to the decision.]