11th Circuit Rules Congregation Can Build Synagogue in Boca

ATLANTA (CN) — The 11th Circuit ruled Tuesday that a congregation of Orthodox Jews can build a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida, seemingly putting an end to a decade-long legal battle.

In its ruling, the 11th Circuit sided with the Chabad of East Boca Raton and overturned a lower court ruling in favor of the City of Boca Raton.

The congregation’s quest to build a new temple began in 2007 when it petitioned the city to amend its zoning law to allow for the construction of a religious facility on a lot zoned for single-family residential use.

The zoning law was eventually changed, and in 2015, the congregation submitted its plans for a two-story building. The plans were approved by the Boca Raton City Council in May 2015, which provided the Chabad with two zoning variances.

A short time later, two local property owners sued, claiming the city  violated the Constitution by giving preferential treatment to a religious organization.

The landowners claimed that the new religious center would increase traffic in the neighborhood, cause flooding and would “change the character of the … neighborhood.”

A federal judge two dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, explaining that the property owners’ alleged injuries here hypothetical outcomes of a building that had yet to be built.

The Chabad responded by arguing that the city was merely obeying the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that requires equal access for people of all faiths.

Following the dismissal of those lawsuits, another was filed, this one claiming the city’s approval of the congregation’s plans was improper because it included plans for a museum inside the religious center.

A Florida state court ruled the zoning code’s allowance for “places of public assembly” did not include museums, and it barred the Chabad from building the synagogue.

In Tuesday’s ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus wrote that the state and district courts’ rulings rendered the landowners’ current complaint moot.

“The injunctive relief sought would bar the City from permitting the Chabad to build a religious meeting facility at 770 Palmetto Park Road. That relief already has been provided by the courts of Florida,” Marcus wrote. “Again, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court has invalidated this project completely. This project, in this form, at this location, is dead.”

For the Chabad, the ruling represents an opportunity for a fresh start.

“We’re grateful that the courts and community have protected our congregation’s ability to be here in Boca Raton, just like every other house of worship,” Rabbi Ruvi New, head of the Chabad of East Boca Raton, said in a written statement. “After ten years of waiting, we are eager to have the chance to build our synagogue in the city we call home.”

“The third time’s a charm,” said attorney Daniel Blomberg, who represented the Chabad. “The courts have now repeatedly put the kibosh on this discriminatory lawsuit. It’s time for the handful of holdouts to join the rest of Boca Raton and welcome the Chabad like good neighbors.”

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