Thursday, August 14, 2014

UPDATE: Congregation Toras Chaim Takes Next Step to Continue Religious Meetings


Liberty Institute takes depositions to help protect synagogue’s future . . .



Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Justin Butterfield with Rabbi Yaakov Rich

Religious study in the home is a time-honored tradition in American culture.  Our religious communities provide the moral standards and support our citizens need, and they have been the backbone of American life and government ever since our country’s birth.  However, the right to have religious gatherings in the home is not as sacred as it used to be, as has been seen through the unfolding of a lawsuit between an indignant homeowner and a small Jewish congregation.

The plaintiff, David Schneider, filed the lawsuit in 2013 against Congregation Toras Chaim, a small Jewish congregation that meets in a house across the street from the plaintiff’s home in Dallas, Texas.

Last week, Congregation Toras Chaim took three key depositions in its efforts to preserve its religious freedom:  the deposition of David Schneider and two board members of the homeowners association in which the congregation meets.  The case is expected to go to mediation in late August.

"These depositions have only reinforced our belief that Congregation Toras Chaim is a good neighbor in their community,” said Justin Butterfield, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel.  “The plaintiffs attempting to exclude the congregation from their neighborhood are being driven by their fear of unrealized possibilities instead of the actual situation in the community."

THE SYNAGOGUE JUST WANTS A HOME

Rabbi Yaakov Rich has been teaching the Torah for 16 years, and is highly respected by his congregation and friends.  When he heard in 2007 that a group of people in the Highlands of McKamy neighborhood wanted to form a Jewish community focused on the Ohr HaTorah Shul outlook on spiritual life, which is only practiced by one other synagogue in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, he decided to help.  Rabbi Rich moved to the neighborhood and founded Congregation Toras Chaim.  Initially, the small congregation met in Rabbi Rich’s home.

However, the Rabbi’s home was not a suitable environment due to the busy lifestyle of his large family, so Rabbi Rich decided to move the synagogue from his own home to another house a short walk away with the financial help of one of his good friends, who also allows Rabbi Rich’s son to rent the residence.  The synagogue has been using the third home ever since May 2013, and has approximately 25 members.

Unfortunately, David Schneider, a disgruntled neighbor, took offense to the synagogue, which had relocated to the house across from him.  David Schneider is now president of the neighborhood’s Homeowner’s Association (HOA).  On behalf of the HOA of Highlands of McKamy IV and V, Schneider filed a lawsuit against the Congregation Toras Chaim.

DISCRIMINATION HAS DEEP REPERCUSSIONS

The HOA’s claim has crucial holes, including the facts that there are other businesses operating out of homes in the neighborhood who are not being targeted and that the HOA waited more than three years to pursue a lawsuit against the synagogue, which had been operating with the HOA’s knowledge for the entirety of its existence.

The claim of the plaintiffs is also egregious in nature because if it succeeds, it would cause severe and irreparable harm to Congregation Toras Chaim.  Since followers of the Jewish religion may not use their cars on the Sabbath according to religious laws, they must live within walking distance of a synagogue.  In the North Dallas Eruv (a zone with special rules for travel on the Sabbath), there is no other place for the synagogue to go.  Therefore, if the plaintiff’s claim triumphs, Congregation Toras Chaim will dissolve, causing great distress and forcing its members to stay and live without a synagogue of their choosing or be dispersed throughout the metroplex.

JUSTICE FOR THE CONGREGATION

Liberty Institute and our volunteer attorneys at Haynes and Boone, LLP are working steadfastly to represent Congregation Toras Chaim, and successfully defend and protect the religious liberty rights of the congregation. 

According to federal law, Congregation Toras Chaim has a right to practice their religion together in a private residence.   And with the ongoing prayer and financial support of friends like you, we will continue to defend the rights of the church—including the rights to teach without legal reprisal, serve the community free from discrimination, assemble without government harassment, and operate ministries according to the beliefs of the organization.

Thank you for joining with us to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders!


About Liberty Institute
Liberty Institute is a nonprofit legal group dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America — in our schools, for our churches, in the military and throughout the public arena. Liberty’s vision is to reestablish religious liberty in accordance with the principles of our nation’s Founders. For information, visit www.LibertyInstitute.org.