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Oct 21, 2008 2:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Synagogue files legal brief on proposed religious boundary

Oct 21, 2008 2:20 PM

The Hampton Synagogue on Monday submitted to village officials a 20-page legal analysis of a religious boundary it is proposing for Westhampton Beach, a move that comes in response to an analysis of the same application that was submitted earlier this month by those who oppose the boundary’s creation.

The synagogue’s legal analysis was authored by Robert Sugarman, a Manhattan-based attorney, and frames the eruv—a symbolic boundary that allows Orthodox Jewish people to push and carry objects on the Sabbath—as a civil rights issue. Mr. Sugarman’s analysis also takes to task a number of issues raised in a legal brief submitted by the Alliance for the Separation of Church and State in the Greater Westhampton Area and authored by Manhattan-based attorney Marci Hamilton.

Nearly eight months ago, the Hampton Synagogue submitted an application to the Westhampton Beach Village Board, asking that it make a symbolic gesture and sign off on the proposed religious boundary that would allow Orthodox Jews to push wheelchairs and baby carriages to temple on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. The boundary, which would encompass about one square mile in the village, would be demarcated by black plastic pipes affixed to utility poles. Synagogue officials withdrew their application for the eruv in late May, in response to building tension over the issue.

Although speculation about a lawsuit has been in conversation ever since the eruv controversy first arose, neither the eruv supporters nor detractors have given any solid indication that they would pursue litigation if the course of events goes against their wishes.

Hampton Synagogue Founding Rabbi Marc Schneier said this week that he did not know when the eruv application would be resubmitted to the village and referred the question to Hampton Synagogue President Morris Tuchman. Mr. Tuchman is currently in Israel and, due to the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, was not available to speak before deadline.

In a previous e-mail, Mr. Tuchman said the synagogue would re-submit the application after the village received Mr. Sugarman’s legal analysis.

Mr. Sugarman, a modern Orthodox Jew who does not own a home in Westhampton Beach, explained in his analysis that if the village does not grant the synagogue a proclamation allowing for the eruv’s establishment, it would be violating the constitution and civil rights of those who would use the boundary.

Because they already allow different groups to place items such as creches and menorahs on the Village Green, Westhampton Beach officials must also allow the eruv, the legal analysis explains. The analysis also states that the village allows Christmas decorations and that a “reasonable observer ... would view the Proclamation as simply another accommodation of the religious beliefs of village residents.”

Mr. Sugarman successfully represented the Tenafly Eruv Association in its battle to have an eruv created in the borough of Tenafly, New Jersey. As such, Mr. Sugarman sees the battle over the eruv in Westhampton Beach as similar to the fight in Tenafly.

He explained that Tenafly government officials selectively enforced a rule about the posting of signs on telephone poles. The same logic can apply in Westhampton Beach, Mr. Sugarman explained. In his legal opinion, he said that the village government is guilty of “selective decision making” if it permits certain religions to utilize village property for the placement of menorahs and creches, but does not allow the synagogue to use the same property for the establishment of an eruv.

However, Ms. Hamilton said this week that her argument, which states that the creation of an eruv would be unconstitutional, will prevail if challenged in court. She also noted that Mr. Sugarman’s logic on his point about “selective decision making” is incorrect. She said that there is a court case stating that holiday decorations do not necessarily mean that the government is backing a particular religion.

“The implication that holiday decorations mean that the government can endorse any religion is actively false,” Ms. Hamilton said.

Language in the legal analysis submitted by the synagogue appears to foreshadow a potential lawsuit, as it states that the “denial of a petition to issue the proclamation would violate the rights of the members of the Hampton Synagogue under ... the First Amendment and the Civil Rights laws.”

But Mr. Sugarman said this week that he did not know if the synagogue would file a lawsuit against the village if it refused to issue a proclamation supporting the eruv.

Mark Williams, a retired attorney who heads up the Alliance for the Separation of Church and State in the Greater Westhampton Area, said his group would consider filing a lawsuit if the village signs off on the eruv application. However, he quickly added that it would be premature to speculate on potential litigation at this time.

Mr. Williams said on Monday that, in all likelihood, the alliance will submit a response to Mr. Sugarman’s analysis to the village. “We’ll do this sooner rather than later,” Mr. Williams said. “We’re not interested in dragging this out.”

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Let the courts decide
By Lefty46 (56), Westhampton on Oct 21, 08 9:36 PM
Let the people (WH residents) decide by vote...
By sane (3), Westhampton on Oct 23, 08 11:10 AM
The Village would prevail in court. The Village is not preventing the Orthodox community from doing anything: Jewish Law is.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Oct 23, 08 12:36 PM
Good Evening North -

I think Tenafly also thought they would win in court. The Village needs to get expert advice on this one; and make sure it doesn't cost the taxpayers a dime.
By gordie howe (55), hockeytown usa on Oct 23, 08 8:39 PM
I agree with Bob Sugarman. The Eruv is a civil right. If we're going to permit Christmas decorations and the painting of Main St. on St. Patrick's Day, we have to permit the Eruv. It's up to the courts, not a vociferous, angry mob, to decide the Eruv.

Under United States law, no one is allowed to impede on the civil rights of another individual or group, regardless of their race, religion, or beliefs. Unfortunately litigating this is going to be very expensive for the WHB taxpayer. ...more
By Steven (113), Westhampton on Oct 23, 08 10:59 PM
Steve,
The religion is impeding itself, not government,
The religion should resolve it, not the US courts.
So drop the veiled blackmail threat about the cost - perhaps this time the synagogue will end up paying.
But Gordie (hey, I saw your handle play many times!) is right - the Village needs expert advice and the stamina not to cave in to financial blackmail threats.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Oct 24, 08 9:46 AM
What would be the problem of issuing a map to the people who want to use the area so that they would be aware of their own boundaries and there wouldn't be any reason for the state to pay to make any demarcations?

Or would the demarcations be there to protect the people using the mile square area as pedestrians or to push baby carriages from other people using the same area, who are not observing any particular religion at that moment, and who are driving their cars? What happens in ...more
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Oct 24, 08 11:39 AM
please folks this is not NYC or even Tenafly WHB is for the most part a summer weekend beach community. The number of year round residents are much smaller and We are one of them an dare jewish and not anti semitic. We are trying to preserve the dignity and face of our overly divers community (actuially one of the most diverse and accepting towns in the "Hamptonsa") As all know from talkig to some of the synagogues congregants there are a limited number of orthodox residents here. Most of ...more
By pgg6259 (5), westhampton bch on Oct 27, 08 10:51 AM
WE AS JEWISH PEOPLE WILL PREVAIL, WE ALWAYS DO !!!!!!!!!!
DON'T FORGET, WE ARE THE CHOSEN ONES !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By KAZ (26), HAMPTON BAYS on Oct 27, 08 8:38 PM
Kaz - Did you read the comment by pgg6259 above your comment - Perhaps it would be a good idea...Your comment is inappropriate and I have reported it as such - whether you mean it as a joke or in seriousness...
By Vikki K (490), Southampton on Oct 28, 08 11:35 AM
I have also, whether a joke or serious
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Oct 28, 08 1:43 PM
IT WAS A SERIOUS COMMENT,

IT IS THE TRUTH, IF YOU LIKE TO ADMIT IT OR NOT.

WE AS JEWISH PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HATED, FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, AND NOW LOOK AT US, WE WORK HARD, AND GET WHAT WE WORK FOR.

I AM TRYING TO MAKE A POINT, PLEASE DO NOT BE SUCH A -------, THAT IS MY OPINION, DID I SAY ANYTHING BAD, OR MAKE A NEGATIVE REFFRENCE TO ANY OTHER RELIGION.

PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME, WHY YOU THINK IT IS INAPPROPRIATE?

ONE MORE STATEMENT,IF IT WAS SUCH A ...more
By KAZ (26), HAMPTON BAYS on Oct 30, 08 3:16 AM