Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Suit against Kiryas Joel is tossed 

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Kiryas Joel dissidents accusing community leaders of discrimination and
arguing that the village is an unconstitutional "theocracy" that should
be dissolved.

Civil-rights attorney Michael
Sussman brought the case in June on behalf of residents who claim that
secular and religious authority are closely entwined in Kiryas Joel and
that village officials discriminate against them because of a split in
the Satmar Hasidic movement over leadership.

In a decision signed Monday, Judge Jed Rakoff rejected the patchwork of
claims, concluding that some had already been addressed in previous
cases and that others were lacking because the alleged victims weren't
parties to the case.

Among other things, the plaintiffs had accused
the village's public safety force of acting as enforcers for the
community's main congregation and failing to protect dissidents when
they were menaced by young supporters of Grand Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum.

The dissidents wanted the court to dismantle the 34-year-old village and
place its roughly 21,000 residents under the government of the
surrounding Town of Monroe.
Short of that, they asked the court to remove the current elected and appointed officials from office.

When the case was filed, village officials attributed the allegations to a
"small group of discontented persons" and insisted they provide services to all residents without discrimination.

They also accused the plaintiffs of trying to undo the will of voters who elected Mayor Abraham Wieder and village trustees.

The lawsuit listed dissident grievances dating back to the village's first
contested municipal election, in 2001. But the immediate trigger was a
heated dispute over a dissident synagogue that resulted in the closure
of the synagogue.

Rakoff declared in his
ruling that any claims involving the closed synagogue were off limits
because the conflict had already been litigated in two cases in state
Supreme Court.

Sussman had contended that the
combination of claims amounted to violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons

For instance, he claimed the alleged
mingling of secular and religious authority constituted an establishment of religion, forbidden by the First Amendment.


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