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Federal Judge: Westhampton Beach Village Cannot Block Religious Boundary

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Kyle Campbell   Jun 18, 2014 10:55 AM
Jun 18, 2014 11:54 AM

An East End group seeking to establish a religious boundary in western Southampton Town was dealt a considerable victory in federal court on Monday, as the ruling all but guaranteed that the organization could establish one such district within the limits of Westhampton Beach Village.

Still, representatives of the East End Eruv Association (EEEA), who are still embroiled in similar litigation with Quogue Village and Southampton Town, said this week that they have no immediate plans to establish the boundary, called an eruv, in Westhampton Beach, even though they can now legally do so.

Robert Sugarman, the lead attorney representing the EEEA, and whose Manhattan-based firm, Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, has been representing the EEEA pro bono from the onset of the litigation, said Tuesday that his clients still are still investigating their options, while noting that lawsuits filed against Quogue Village and Southampton Town are still pending. The proposed eruv would span both villages and include Quiogue, which is part of Southampton Town.

“Well, it’s a little complicated, because there are three municipalities involved,” Mr. Sugarman said. “The most straightforward of which is Westhampton Beach—there’s nothing in village code prohibiting the use of ‘lechis,’” or boundary markers. In this instance, the markers would be PVC strips a little more than half inch wide, and between 10 and 15 feet long, according to the lawsuit.

“We are exploring what our options are in terms of Westhampton Beach, and we haven’t concluded on that,” he added.

Monday’s decision, handed down by Judge Kathleen Tomlinson in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, stated that Westhampton Beach could not prevent the establishment of an eruv, a nearly invisible boundary that would permit Orthodox Jews to push and carry objects to temple that would otherwise be forbidden on the Sabbath or holy days, within its limits. Specifically, Judge Tomlinson ruled that the village was unable to block the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon from permitting the pro-eruv group to install the lechis on utility poles in order to designate the eruv’s boundaries.

Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller, Deputy Mayor Ralph Urban and Trustee Hank Tucker each acknowledged the ruling but declined to comment on the decision. “I know about it, but that’s it,” Mr. Teller said. “I haven’t seen it, I haven’t read it, so I defer to our attorney.”

Village Attorney Dick Haefeli could not immediately be reached for comment.

The topic has been divisive within Westhampton Beach and Quogue villages, as well as the hamlet of Quiogue, where the EEEA has been championing the cause for the establishment of an eruv since 2008, prompting multiple lawsuits between the involved parties. In the lawsuit settled Monday, Verizon New York and LIPA sued Westhampton Beach, Quogue and Southampton Town for prohibiting the installation of the lechis on their utility poles.

Supporters of the eruv have argued that not allowing its establishment would impede the right of observant Jews to practice their religion freely and openly, while dissenters, including some Jews who belong to the Hampton Synagogue—the Westhampton Beach house of worship that initiated the eruv moment—say the boundary would show that the village is favoring one religion over others.

Per Jewish law, in order for an eruv to be created, it must be approved by local government and its boundaries clearly marked with the lechis.

Because the poles are installed with government approval and within the public right of way, the municipalities argued that posting any sort of sign on the poles would not be permitted, or at least would require prior approval. The utility companies countered by noting that they own the actual poles and should have the authority to approve such a request.

On Monday, Judge Tomlinson ruled in favor of the utility companies, citing state laws that permit Verizon and LIPA to enter into private contracts for the use of their poles, and determining that their contracts with municipalities do not explicitly forbid the installation of signs on the poles. In the past, the companies have allowed signs on their poles promoting events, such as the Westhampton Beach St. Patrick’s Day parade, as well as events outside Southampton Town, including the Plainedge Union Free School District budget vote and the Town of Islip Earth Day Celebration, according to the ruling.

Monday’s decision also brought a minor setback for the EEEA when Judge Tomlinson reaffirmed the villages’ argument that they had the ability to enforce sign ordinances, even on private property, without infringing on freedom of speech in order to ensure health, safety and the aesthetics of their communities. However, because Westhampton Beach has no law or ordinance that would apply to the lechis, Judge Tomlinson ruled that it has no means of stopping LIPA and Verizon from upholding the contractual agreements that they made with EEEA to allow lechis on utility poles.

In contrast, Quogue does have a sign ordinance and its village officials say the lechis would violate it. The Quogue Village Board unanimously denied an application by the EEEA to install lechis in May 2012, but Judge Tomlinson decided this week that “[t]he court does not have the enough information to determine if it may properly address whether the Quogue Village Code applies to the lechis in light of the decision of the Board of Trustees.”

Mr. Sugarman, the lead attorney representing the EEEA, described Monday’s ruling a major success for his clients overall, but added that there’s still a lot of work to be done.

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How much money has Westhampton Beach wasted fighting this insignificant symbol?
By tenn tom (66), remsenburg on Jun 18, 14 11:50 AM
1 member liked this comment
If it's such an"insignificant symbol," why have the East End Eruv Association spent so much time and money pursuing it?
By Frank Wheeler (1275), Northampton on Jun 18, 14 2:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
Because they wanted to post some boundaries and were told not to.
By tenn tom (66), remsenburg on Jun 18, 14 4:39 PM
WHO told them not to?

The way I read this, Westhampton Beach doesn't even seem to be part of this action the way that Quogue Village and Southampton Town are.

No matter, I'm sure someone will appeal this to a court that isn't presided over by a second rate political hack presently being investigated in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Second Circuit Judiciary Council, and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I'd provide the external link but that is dscouraged here, ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1275), Northampton on Jun 18, 14 7:58 PM
The article says clearly that WHB is a part of the suit:

"In the lawsuit settled Monday, Verizon New York and LIPA sued Westhampton Beach, Quogue and Southampton Town for prohibiting the installation of the lechis on their utility poles."

Simplistic broad brush comments here will never offer clarity, as there are TONS of complicated factual and legal issues, multiple utilities and municipalities. The Constitutional issues could fill volumes on their own.

Have at it gentle ...more
By PBR (4366), Southampton on Jun 18, 14 8:40 PM
Accept the ruling and stop wasting money
By westhamptonboy (104), Westhampton on Jun 18, 14 4:21 PM
This "eruv" is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard of. Besides that, the LIPA portion of the poles is government/public property.

Unless they are on the Verizon portion of the poles, it's a clear violation of Church and State regardless of a LIPA private contract. This isn't a "sign", it's a religious symbol. For that matter, you can't have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, now can you? If someone wanted Christian crosses on those poles, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't ...more
By Mr. Z (6392), North Sea on Jun 18, 14 5:03 PM
Your absolutely right Z. Public property no religious symbols. Unfortunately this country lost track of the constitution 20 years ago
By chief1 (1372), southampton on Jun 18, 14 5:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
An old Chines proverb ''The Land that has an ERUVE will enjoy many Blessings''found it in the fortune cookie of my shrimp lo mein lunch special from...................
By Etians rd (182), Southampton on Jun 18, 14 6:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
why is a municipal government called upon to offer an exemption to religious law?
the decision stinks.
By North of Highway (277), Westhampton Beach on Jun 18, 14 8:22 PM
5 towns here we come....
By casden (4), westhampton on Jun 18, 14 8:25 PM
1 member liked this comment
Quogue keep fighting against an eruv. It's borderline occupation.
By rvs (26), sag harbor on Jun 18, 14 10:54 PM
I'm a Jew and see no need for it. Useless string thats makes them think they get a pass to push a stroller.
By Summer Resident (87), Southampton N.Y. on Jun 18, 14 11:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
I can see the tradition and ritual about honoring old ways, and having a keen reminder that modern technology, products and innovation are a tool first, and a toy second. But I'd have to vehemently disagree about the rules of a society confining one to the house for ordinary life circumstances like needing medication. Structure in a society is all well and good, but life evolves and the rules need to as well.
By Mr. Z (6392), North Sea on Jun 19, 14 12:52 PM
In ALL the eruv cases to date, including this one, the constitutional issue was never addressed at the federal trial court level. It WOULD be before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The hopes of those of us who want the 1st amendment to apply equally to ALL religious sects lies with Quogue. Southampton Town (i.e. Quiogue) is only awaiting someone to ask it before it rolls over in the face of continued litigation expense. Westhampton Beach, alas, can be expected to follow suit. It is only ...more
By highhatsize (2163), East Quogue on Jun 19, 14 11:46 AM
Now highhatsize- you sure are a guy with some bigotry in your blood arent you.
By realistic (265), westhampton on Jun 19, 14 3:20 PM
Caught my attention also:

HHS: "Let's hear it for rich, old, uptight Christians!"
By PBR (4366), Southampton on Jun 19, 14 5:36 PM
to realistic:

It's always best to know what words mean before one employs them.

You, for instance, could look up the definition of "bigotry" - - and of "prejudice".
By highhatsize (2163), East Quogue on Jun 20, 14 9:48 AM
Yes. And your statement embodies the definition of a bigot. You should be ashmed of yourself and offer an apology. Your statement is what perpetuates such behavior in our society. And your play-on-words- bigot- prejudice- is BS.
You have exposed yourself.
By realistic (265), westhampton on Jun 20, 14 10:20 AM
to realistic:

["sigh"] "I" want the state to treat all religious sects even-handedly, as I stated. For this you label me a bigot thus manifesting the prejudice inherent in your own opinion.

Who is deserving of an apology here?


By highhatsize (2163), East Quogue on Jun 20, 14 11:36 AM
The rich, old, uptight Christians.
By Captn America (4419), Barack Obama's America on Jun 20, 14 11:55 AM
2 members liked this comment
West Wing: Bartlet quotes scripture
By Mr. Z (6392), North Sea on Jun 21, 14 12:08 AM
NPD
By PBR (4366), Southampton on Jun 21, 14 8:40 AM
Unless NO signs are allowed, lichis should be allowed. That's all the decision established. No governmental "approval" is needed in this case, only LIPA's and Verizon's, and, having permitted signs before, they had no reason to decline now.
To the extent an eruv requires some form of government approval or endorsement, which certain sects or groups of Jews assert, the mere posting of lichis will not be effective. It is that governmental involvement with sectarian religion which must be avoided ...more
By Bruce A. (4), Southampton on Jun 21, 14 10:43 AM
1 member liked this comment
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