An application to attach wooden markers on utility poles throughout Quogue Village, to create a religious boundary called an eruv, was denied on Friday by village trustees, and, earlier this week, those pushing for its establishment said they intend to sue the village over the rejection.
At their monthly meeting, the trustees voted 5-0 to accept a written decision that denies the application filed in January by the nonprofit East End Eruv Association (EEEA). The group wanted to install two markers, called “lechis,” on 46 utility poles in the village that are owned by Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority, and a single marker on two of the poles for an “indefinite and unlimited period of time,” the application states. Some of the poles are located along Montauk Highway, at the intersections of Quogue Street, Jessup Avenue and Old Depot Road. Additional markers would have been installed along Scrub Oak Road, Old Depot Road, Bayberry Lane, Old Country Road and Old Main Road, according to the denied application.
Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius briefly summarized the resolution prior to its adoption Friday afternoon. He said that among the reasons for denying the application was a belief that it violates the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution, and that the markers will create a problem for Village Attorney Richard DePetris. The mayor explained that, in the past, Mr. DePetris has consistently denied other requests to install signs on utility poles in the village that fall within its right of way.
When asked about the decision immediately after Friday’s meeting, Mr. Sartorius said: “I think the decision speaks for itself, so I do not need to comment.”
The five-page resolution states, in part: “The Board of Trustees believes that to protect the safety of our residents, to maintain the beauty and quality of life in the Village, and to avoid constitutional violations, and liability, rights of way should be kept clear. The lechis represent more than functioning, unattractive pieces of hardware.”
The decision also states that they do not believe that a denial of the application violates the free exercise clause of the Constitution.
Attorney Robert Sugarman of the Manhattan firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, who is representing the EEEA, said on Monday that the nonprofit intends to sue Quogue Village over the rejection.
“We are disappointed but not surprised by the decision,” Mr. Sugarman said. “We feel it is significantly flawed and plan to go back to court to challenge it.”
He said he could not say when the suit would be filed with the court, or what the EEEA would be seeking in terms of damages. Mr. Sugarman would only say that his client’s lawsuit would be filed within the next few weeks, as soon as all of the necessary paperwork can be processed.
When reached on Tuesday afternoon and asked about the threat of another lawsuit, Mr. Sartorius said: “There are already suits pending, so I don’t want to comment on this suit until I see it.”
If it files suit as promised, the EEEA will be embroiled in two lawsuits that name Quogue Village as a defendant. In January 2011, the EEEA filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that Southampton Town, and Quogue and Westhampton Beach villages were discriminating against Jewish people, citing their objection to the proposed boundary even though a formal application was never submitted at the time. The EEEA filed a formal application with Quogue in January, though it has not filed similar ones with Westhampton Beach or Southampton Town.
If created, the boundary would allow Orthodox Jews to engage in certain activities that are typically prohibited on the Sabbath, such as the pushing of baby strollers and wheelchairs, and the carrying of items, like cellphones, glasses, canes and keys. While the EEEA is pushing for the boundary, the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach is the only local house of worship that would benefit from its creation.
In November 2011, a judge denied a motion filed by the EEEA that sought the establishment of a temporary religious boundary in the western portion of Southampton Town, which included parts of Westhampton and all of Westhampton Beach Village. The request was denied by Judge Leonard D. Wexler of the U.S. District Court in Central Islip on the grounds that the EEEA never filed formal applications for the lechis with Westhampton Beach, Quogue or Southampton.
Mr. Sugarman explained this week that the EEEA has no intention of filing a similar application with Westhampton Beach Village, noting that, unlike Quogue and Southampton Town, there are no ordinances that would hinder the creation of an eruv. Quogue Village rejected its application after pointing out that the lechis would be installed on utility poles that fall within the public’s right of way.