Clifton, New Jersey has agreed to pay a Jewish congregation $2.5 million and will allow it to construct a synagogue. Congregation Shomrei Torah/Tiferes Boruch asked for permission to build a synagogue 11 years ago. The congregation had to appear before Clifton’s zoning and planning board more than 30 times from 2008 to 2015. The congregation alleged that Clifton kept moving the goal line. “It was like if my son told me he couldn’t do his homework because he didn’t have a pencil. I’d get him 12 pencils, and wait for the next excuse,” said congregation president David Gross. Examples of discriminatory application of local regulations alleged by the congregation include:
- A directive that water pressure on the property had to be at 800 gallons per minute or 20 pounds of pressure per minute to fight fire. After three years, the fire department changed the requirement to 3,500 gallons per minute.
- Determining that a Friday night mikvah (ritual bath) proposed for the synagogue was a “business” use (rather than a “religious” use) and not allowed.
- Changing parking requirements from 32 parking spaces to 140 spaces.
Lawyers for the congregation expressed disbelief over Clifton’s application of its local regulations: “We were in shock. It was a textbook of RLUIPA violation. A religious applicant has to be treated on equal terms with others, such as a data center or a church. The disparate treatment that came out in our review of the file really spoke for itself.”
“Another problem that they have … is the board didn’t remember that their job is to do the right thing on behalf of the entire community as opposed to a vocal minority of individuals who had bias and hatred. We’ve seen local officials in many, many towns, listen to the squeaky wheel, and listen to the people who have hate, and what they should have done is say, ‘no, we’re not going to listen to you, we’re going to do the right thing.’”
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