N.Y. village can’t block Jewish school’s expansion, 2nd Circuit says

Thursday, October 18, 2007

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court has upheld a controversial federal religious land-use law, agreeing that the Village of Mamaroneck’s zoning laws cannot be used to block a Jewish school’s new 44,000-square-foot building.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling yesterday in Westchester Day School v. Mamaroneck, upheld a lower court decision. U.S. District Judge William Conner had ruled that Mamaroneck violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying Westchester Day School a permit to expand its facilities.

The 400-student school had challenged the village’s zoning decision in a lawsuit.

In its appeal to the 2nd Circuit, the village argued that RLUIPA violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause. A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit, however, rejected this argument.

“RLUIPA’s land use provisions plainly have a secular purpose … : to lift government-created burdens on private religious exercise,” the panel said. “Similarly, the principal or primary effect of RLUIPA’s land use provisions neither advances nor inhibits religion.”

The panel also found that the law’s “land use provisions do not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.”

“RLUIPA cannot be said to advance religion simply by requiring that states not discriminate against or among religious institutions,” the court said.

Lawyers in the case have said it’s likely to reach the Supreme Court.

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