The Village of Monroe has received a letter from the office of Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, opposing a zoning proposal that could restrict the religious freedom of the area’s Orthodox Jews, who make up a sizeable portion of the village’s population and the surrounding area.
The proposed Local Legislation No. 5 would limit and regulate how places of worship, including private homes, can be used, as well as how schools can be used.
According to the official statement, the goal is to “promote individual constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and free exercise of religion and to protect the health, safety, and general welfare of Village of Monroe residents.” However, the letter—which was addressed to the local mayor, Neil Dwyer—suggests otherwise.
The document states that the proposed rule “places restrictions on residential gathering places, neighborhood places of worship, community places of worship, and schools of general instruction that may violate the rights of Orthodox Jews to exercise their religion.”
Just outside the largely Chassidic hamlet of Kiryas Joel in Orange County is the Village of Monroe, which is home to a sizable and expanding Orthodox Jewish community.
“Proposed Local Law 5 appears to restrict Orthodox Jews’ freedom to practice their religion in defiance of state and federal laws,” the letter continues. The stated justification of the statute is insufficient, in the opinion of the OAG, to support those limitations.
The OAG is not persuaded that the proposed law’s provisions are the least onerous ways to accomplish the law’s objectives, to the degree that they address real health and safety concerns.
It makes reference to a number of regulations that forbid interfering with religious practices through the use of local zoning rules. Particularly in areas where orthodox Jewish communities are spreading out, such as the Monsey region, Jackson, NJ, and Kiryas Joel, this issue has been a persistent problem.
In the letter, the village is urged to postpone further action on the rule until the OAG has had a chance to thoroughly review it. The community is also required to submit a formal justification for the law by September 29th.
“Many municipalities in New York and New Jersey have attempted to use land use regulations to discriminate against the Orthodox Jewish community,” tweeted Joel Petlin, the superintendent of the Kiryas Joel school system.
It’s encouraging to see @NewYorkStateAG @TishJames defending the freedom to freely practice religion in each and every NY State town, city, and village.