The Village Board for the Village of Woodbury, New York (“Village”) is considering a new law that would require a permit in order to erect or maintain an eruv in any public street, right-of-way or easement. For those not familiar with an eruv, it is an unbroken demarcation of an area, often created by connecting existing telephone or utility poles and wires, that allows Jews to carry or push objects from place to place on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur. A number of eruvs have been erected as the Orthodox Jewish community has grown in Woodbury over recent years.
According to the draft local law (“Law”), available here, adoption of the Law is intended to promote consistency in the use of utility poles, in the interest of public health and safety. The Law is also intended to address concerns regarding the use of private security cameras that have been installed on utility poles, as well as regulating small, 5G cell towers.
In addition to the permit requirement, if passed, the Law would require eruvs to be placed between 8 and 20 feet high and either translucent or the same color as the pole to which it is attached. Existing non-complying eruvs that are placed across public streets or right-of-ways would not be “grandfathered;” rather, they would have to be removed within 90 days of the Law’s enactment.
In a seven page letter to the Village, the newly formed Woodbury Eruv Association claimed that the Law, if enacted, would violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, subjecting the Village to “costly, time-consuming, and ultimately unsuccessful litigation.”
Village Mayor Michael Queenan has likened the Law to customary land use regulation: “To us, it’s just like passing a zoning law on solar panels.” In a statement to the Times Herald-Record, the mayor stressed that the Law would not prohibit eruvs, and that the Village has “no desire to interfere with anyone’s right to practice religion.”