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Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Acting U.S. Attorney Sues Village Of Airmont For Renewed Religious Discrimination Against Orthodox Jewish Residents

Lawsuit Follows Recidivist Village’s Adoption of Discriminatory Zoning Code and Land Use Practices that Violate Federal Law and Prior Court Judgment

Audrey Strauss, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the filing today of a lawsuit in federal district court against the Village of Airmont in Rockland County (“AIRMONT” or the “VILLAGE”) to rectify AIRMONT’S renewed efforts to discriminate against its Orthodox Jewish community.  As alleged in the Complaint, AIRMONT has violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) by imposing land use and zoning provisions that, among other things, restrict Orthodox Jewish residents’ ability to worship in private homes and prevent operation of a private religious school.  The lawsuit marks the third time that the United States has sued AIRMONT since its 1991 incorporation for discriminatory treatment of Orthodox Jewish residents under both RLUIPA and the Fair Housing Act.  The first two lawsuits resulted in the entry of court judgments against the VILLAGE – a judgment following a jury trial in 1996 and judgment pursuant to a court-entered consent decree in 2011.     

Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “As a jury found over two decades ago, the Village of Airmont was born out of a spirit of animus against a religious minority.  Sadly, rather than working to overcome that shameful legacy, Airmont has flagrantly ignored the terms of a court judgment and implemented land use practices that by design and operation are again meant to infringe unlawfully on the rights of a minority religious community.  Religious discrimination will not be tolerated.  We will remain vigilant to ensure that the right to worship freely and without undue interference is protected for all.”  

According to the Complaint filed in White Plains federal court:

Following the expiration of the last court-entered consent decree against AIRMONT in 2015, and beginning with an administration elected in 2017 on an openly anti-Hasidic platform, the VILLAGE has actively sought to prevent its Orthodox Jewish residents from operating home synagogues and a private school in conformity with their faith.  AIRMONT has pursued its discriminatory agenda by, among other actions:  

  • Imposing a nearly two-year land use moratorium in 2017 that was motivated by a desire to prevent the growing Orthodox Jewish community from developing property rather than any legitimate governmental purpose.
     
  • Amending the Village Zoning Code in 2018 to strike “residential place of worship” as a recognized land use category, in direct violation of the terms of the final judgment entered by the court in 1996.
     
  • Imposing new Zoning Code requirements that place an unlawful and arbitrary limit on the gross floor area of private residences that can be used for worship, ban the use of private home mikvahs, or ritual baths, and restrict the co-congregants whom homeowners are allowed to host.
     
  • Implementing a new, arbitrary land use application process controlled by the Village designed to impose unreasonable and unnecessary zoning requirements on Orthodox Jewish residents, drive up their costs, and ensure their applications, including minor alterations to private homes, are never approved despite years of good faith efforts to comply.
     
  • Targeting Orthodox Jewish residents with the threat and imposition of unfounded fines for supposed zoning infractions in order to thwart and intimidate land use applicants. 

RLUIPA authorizes the Department of Justice to commence an action against any local government that implements a land use regulation that places a substantial burden on religious exercise, discriminates on the basis of religion, or unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions, and structures.  The Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against AIRMONT.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Civil Rights Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Cha-Kim is in charge of the case.

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Contact: 
James Margolin, Nicholas Biase (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 
20-275
Updated December 2, 2020