When Zoning Laws Prevent the Building of Shuls

As the Orthodox Jewish population grows and expands to different neighborhoods, it frequently finds itself in need of shuls being built. Sometimes, existing zoning laws make it difficult to do so. In 2005, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) to address precisely this issue.

As the issue becomes increasingly important for communities like ours, the United States Justice Department has undertaken a campaign to educate the public about the nuances of the law.

Fulfilling a promise made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on June 13th, the first community outreach event designed to promote RLUIPA awareness was held in New Jersey, drawing several dozen community and faith leaders, advocacy groups, members of the legal profession and Department of Justice representatives.

The June 25th gathering at Seton Hall University in Newark was the first to be held under the Place to Worship Initiative announced earlier this month to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right to worship and was designed to educate municipal officials and religious groups about RLUIPA, while also offering training and resources to federal prosecutors.

The outreach event was extremely productive, said Rabbi Avi Schnall, New Jersey director of Agudath Israel of America, who noted that the Agudah was instrumental in the creation of the original RLUIPA legislation, which was unanimously passed in 2000 by Congress. In the recent past, RLUIPA, which helps safeguard religious institutions from discriminatory zoning regulations, has made headlines multiple times, particularly in the Garden State which has seen a higher than average number of cases.

“New Jersey has been a hotbed of activity for RLUIPA, having seen cases in Mahwah, Jackson, Toms River, Clifton and, most recently, Woodcliff Lake,” said Rabbi Schnall. “The Agudah is grateful to the Trump administration and the Department of Justice for its strong support of religious freedom.”

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