A judge has ruled that the East End Eruv Association cannot string a temporary religious boundary, known as an eruv, along telephone poles in the Western part of Southampton and along the borders of Westhampton Beach and Quogue Villages.
The long-awaited injuction decision, which is part of a filed by the association in January, was rendered by Judge Leonard D. Wexler of the United States District Court in Central Islip last Thursday and says that the EEEA's request to install a thin wire, known as "lechis," to signify a religious boundry "is not ripe" because the organization failed to apply for permits to install the lechis via the municipalities involved.
"Under the circumstances," the ruling reads, "it appears that the Sign Ordinance is at least arguably applicable to the lechis, such that whether the Sign Ordinance applies to the attachment of lechis to utility poles in Southampton should be an issue for Southampton to decide in the first instance."
The EEEA, which is claiming in its civil suit that the municipalities infringed on its members' religious rights, had hoped the judge would approve a temporary injunction so Orthodox Jews could push strollers and engage in tasks otherwise not allowed on the Sabbath while the civil matter was decided. However, the plaintiffs did not show that "irreperable harm" would result should relief not be granted, according to the ruling.
Hank Sheinkopf, spokesman for EEEA, said the decision carries both good and bad news.
"There is plenty of good news in the decision and the battle of religious freedom will continue. It's not a bad day, just another day," he said, noting that EEEA's lawyers are exploring options.
An attorney for EEEA, Robert Sugarman, said he has not yet discussed the decision with the EEEA, but in general, he was disappointed and called the decision "erroneous."
He did say, however, that he plans to discuss legal options with EEEA, including an appeal and a suggestion by the judge to redraw the eruv border for Quogue and Westhampton Beach and present it to the municipalities for discussion, as well as applying separately to the Town of Southampton for a permit for an eruv under the town's sign ordinance, prior to furthering the civil action.
Since the proposed eruv border follows through all three municipalities, a denial for construction in one municipality means a denial in all three, due to the "interdependence" of the route, Judge Wexler stated.
In his decision, the judge also noted that it does not appear that Westhampton Beach nor the Village of Quogue have an applicable sign ordinance to apply under for an Eruv and that the Eruv's proposed boundaries are "unclear."
, head of the First Amendment Alliance in Westhampton Beach, said he believes the judge's decision "is a fine one."
"It is a correct decision on the facts that were presented to the court. We have no allusions that the fight is over. This was only a first step."
The next step is the civil action, which is sitting in court. The case brought forth by the EEEA in January states that the Town of Southampton and Villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue have violated their civil rights by not allowing them to erect an eruv.
In addition, the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon Wireless joined together to filing that asks the courts for clarification.
The entities got caught in the middle of the eruv battle when, in November 2010, they granted EEEA use of their utility poles for an eruv, but were stopped by the municipalities, which said the poles sit in the towns' right of way.
The community has been sharply divided over the creation of an eruv ever since a proposal was first put on the table by Rabbi Marc Schneir of the Hampton Synagogue in 2008.
Although that first application was withdrawn after a firestorm of controversy, the issue ignited again last year when word of application by the East End Eruv Association for a new eruv, with even more expansive boundaries encompassing not only Westhampton Beach but parts of the Village of Quogue and Southampton.
Members of Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, led by founder Arnold Sheiffer, met to discuss strategies meant to thwart plans for an eruv, which they believe would significantly lessen property values and destroy the bucolic quality of life in the area forever.
The issue was even brought into the national spotlight when it was spoofed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The mayors of Westhampton Beach and Quogue, who have maintained that the Eruv Association must submit applications to the villages for an eruv, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
A copy of the decision is attached to this article.