An attorney representing the East End Eruv Association warned Quogue Village Board members on Monday that a denial of its application to create a religious boundary within the municipality would violate the First Amendment rights of Orthodox Jews.
During the hour-long public hearing, attorney Robert Sugarman of the Manhattan firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges told the estimated 50 people in attendance that there is legal precedent that would support the village’s approval of the boundary, called an eruv. Mr. Sugarman’s law firm is the same one that is representing the East End Eruv Association (EEEA) in the federal civil rights lawsuit that it previously filed against Quogue and Westhampton Beach villages and Southampton Town over the proposed religious boundary.
Specifically, Mr. Sugarman said Monday that the group’s application, which was filed with the village two months ago, notes that the courts have ruled that attaching boundary markers, known as “lechis,” to utility poles in the village could be done without violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The clause states that governments cannot give preference to one religion over another.
He added that, if the village were to reject the application, board members would be violating the rights of Orthodox Jews to practice their religion, a move that would violate the Constitution’s religious protections.
When asked by Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius how many people would benefit from the boundary, Mr. Sugarman responded that five families in the village would utilize it. The proposed eruv, if ultimately approved, would encompass all of Westhampton Beach Village, portions of Quiogue, and the western half of Quogue Village.
The EEEA has not yet filed similar applications with Westhampton Beach Village or Southampton Town.
Referencing a pair of maps provided by Mr. Sugarman, Mr. Sartorius said that 48 lechis would be placed throughout the village. The wooden markers would be installed on utility poles along Montauk Highway, between Old Main Road and Jessup Avenue, and along Scrub, Old Depot and Old Country roads. The eruv also will be marked by certain natural landmarks and power lines—meaning that the eruv will be larger than what is delineated by the lechis.
Village Board members did not vote on the application following the hearing, during which seven people voiced their opposition to the plan. The only person to speak in favor was Yechiel Shaffer, the assistant rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, which is the only local house of worship that would benefit from the boundary’s creation. When reached after the meeting, Rabbi Shaffer said he was speaking on his own behalf and did not represent the synagogue.
The hearing is now closed and it is not clear when the board will vote on the application, Mr. Sartorius said immediately after the hearing.
The hearing—which was moved from Friday to Monday to accommodate practicing Jews—was held in response to the formal application filed by the EEEA requesting that the village permit the installation of the wooden markers on utility poles throughout Quogue. If established, the mostly invisible boundary would allow Orthodox Jews to engage in certain activities, such as the pushing of baby strollers and wheelchairs, and carry items, like cellphones, glasses, canes and keys, that are typically prohibited on the Sabbath.
The mayor told Mr. Sugarman he was worried that if the board permits the lechis, other groups will come forward and ask it to sign off on plans that call for the installation of signs and markers on the utility poles.
“We pride ourselves on our clean rights of way here in Quogue,” Mr. Sartorius said. “Our code enforcement officer spends a lot of time keeping our rights of way clean. If we put the lechis on the poles, how would we distinguish between them and other things?”
Mr. Sugarman responded by explaining that approval of the lechis would not require the board to sign off on similar requests.
In response to Mr. Sugarman’s comments, Arnold Sheiffer, the president of Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton—more commonly referred to as Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv—addressed the board on Monday. He said he was representing 300 members of his group, all of whom oppose the boundary.
“The members of my organization do not wish to live in a village whose territory has been demarcated by the erection of an eruv on government property,” Mr. Sheiffer said. “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 and which our spiritual leaders expressly reject.”