The City of Dallas, Texas is in a familiar position. It’s being sued for religious discrimination. Last year, the City Council agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by two churches ministering to the homeless (local coverage here) after a federal court ruled that a City ordinance violated the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA) (prior post here). Now, the City is being sued by a synagogue, Congregation Toras Chaim, alleging that the City’s attempt to shut down the synagogue for failure to obtain a certificate of occupancy violates religious freedom laws.
The action began when the City sued two residents who use their home as an Orthodox Jewish synagogue for 25 congregants. The City alleged that the subject property and the home had to be renovated to comply with certain handicap accessibility, fire safety, and parking requirements to obtain a certificate of occupancy for use as a synagogue. The City asserts that Defendants’ failure to “obtain a CO [for synagogue use] and comply with the life-safety requirements entailed therein, presents a substantial danger of injury or adverse health impact to persons and/or property of persons other than the Defendants” (prior post here) (City’s complaint available here).
In response, the synagogue has brought an 11-count counterclaim, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act’s (RLUIPA) substantial burden, equal terms, nondiscrimination and unreasonable limitations and exclusions provisions, the Free Exercise Clause, TRFRA, and other state law.
The synagogue’s complaint summarizes its position:
The City of Dallas contends that Defendants have not properly obtained a … [CO] for the religious use of the property. The City of Dallas has rejected Defendants’ request to obtain a CO because Defendants do not have thirteen parking spaces, an automatic fire sprinkler system, a separate second floor with a firewall, two first-floor exits, wheelchair-accessible walkways, and wheelchair-accessible restrooms. Installing thirteen parking spaces outside of the home would be physically impossible given the limited space and requiring Defendants to unnecessarily purchase these additional features would cost Defendants approximately $250,000, thereby effectively preventing Defendants from using the property as religious space.
The synagogue seeks $100,000 in monetary relief, injunctive relief allowing continued use of the property for religious worship, and attorney’s fees.
The synagogue’s counterclaim complaint is available here. Earlier this year, Collin County District Court Judge Jill Willis granted summary judgment in favor of the synagogue in a lawsuit brought by a private homeowner who sought to enforce restrictive covenants to prevent the religious use on the subject property.