After months of motions and briefs filed back and forth, Westhampton's eruv controversy was back in the courts this week, when oral arguments commenced before Judge Leonard D. Wexler's on Monday. During the hearing, Wexler, according to a New York Times report, dismissed one of three cases and set a timeline to hear the remaining two cases.
The case dismissed was one filed in July 2012 by the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach against the Village of Westhampton Beach, the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon claiming that if a symbolic religious boundary, known as an eruv is erected, it will be a direct violation of the First Amendment.
Arnold Schieffer, who heads up the group said the decision is exactly what he anticipated.
"It was a disappointment, but it is line with what we had anticipated. We are now confident that we have a streight path to the second district circuit appeals."
The eruv suit, which has raged on for five years and was once spoofed by "The Daily Show," was prompted by the East End Eruv Association, which wants to erect an eruv around the villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue and parts of Southampton.
The association claims that an eruv, or a thin wire that is strung around utility poles, would be virtually invisible and that their constitutional and civil rights have been violated in their effort to create the symbolic boundary that would permit orthodox Jews to carry things they normally couldn't on the Sabbath, such as keys, and to push strollers.
The association first filed suit against the the three municipalities in January 2011.
- RELATED: East End Eruv Association Sues Local Municipalities
The same month, LIPA and Verizon filed separate suits asking the courts for "clarification."
- RELATED: LIPA and Verizon Sue Villages and Town
Both LIPA and Verizon had agreed to let the association use their utility poles, however, the municipalities said the poles are within their jurisdiction.
In November 2011, Wexler denied an injunction request by the East End Eruv Association to string a temporary eruv and urged the association to file permit applications to install the eruv through the municipalities involved — something they had yet to do.
- RELATED: Eruv Injunction Denied; Religious Boundary Won't Go Up Anytime Soon
In January 2012, the association officially submitted a proposal to the village of Quogue asking for permission to install lechis, or a thin wire, along 48 telephone polls, 31 of which are owned by the Long Island Power Authority and 17 by Verizon.
- RELATED: Eruv Application Submitted to Village of Quogue
Similar proposals were never submitted to the Village of Westhampton Beach of Town of Southampton — there are no current zoning laws on the books to which the association can apply to in those municipalities.
A hearing was held in the Village of Quogue in March 2012 and on May 18, 2012, Quogue officials officially denied the application stating, "We do not wish to be in a position of having to make distinctions without a clear basis for doing so or to expose the Village to claims of discriminatory treatment, expensive litigation and potential liability for allowing one type of device and message and not another. On that basis denial of the application is appropriate."
- Jewish Groups Clash Over Eruv Proposal
- Quogue Says 'No' to Eruv
The decision came after the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach stood before the Village of Quogue board and stated that if an eruv was to be errected, it would be in direct violation of the establishment clause constitution — "We would view the erection and public display of an eruv on public utility poles located within the village as a symbolic endorsement by the village of an interpretation of Jewish law with which we personally disagree with," they said.
Then, in July 2012, the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach filed a suit against the Village of Westhampton Beach, the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon claiming that if a symbolic religious boundary, known as an eruv is erected, it will be a direct violation of the First Amendment.
With the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach's case now pulled off the table, Judge Wexler anticipates that the remaining two cases will go to trial by mid April.
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