Group seeking Westhampton Beach eruv scores court victory
An Orthodox Jewish group seeking to construct an eruv, or symbolic fence, in the Westhampton Beach area has won one battle in federal court, while attorneys said the long-running dispute could be nearing a resolution.
Judge Leonard D. Wexler of U.S. District Court in Central Islip this week dismissed a lawsuit by the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach, which is trying to block construction of the eruv. Two other cases remain.
The eruv would consist of 10- to 15-foot PVC strips that would be five-eighths of an inch wide and affixed to about 60 utility poles. The strips, or "lechis," would create an area where observant Orthodox Jews could perform tasks ordinarily prohibited on their Sabbath outside of their homes, such as pushing baby carriages and carrying objects on the way to their synagogue.
The Jewish People group contended the eruvs would violate the Constitution's First Amendment separation of church and state because they would be placed on public property.
"Respectfully, I think the judge is wrong," said Jonathan Sinnreich, an attorney representing the group. "I think the eruv application is flagrantly unconstitutional and we're going to appeal" to the Second Circuit in Manhattan.
But Robert Sugarman, an attorney representing the East End Eruv Association, which wants to erect the eruv, hailed the decision and the fact Wexler set a schedule for moving the cases ahead.
"It's very positive because he has a fairly good time frame for the resolution of this case," Sugarman said. "I am still optimistic that we have the better arguments and that we will prevail."
Wexler did not explain why he dismissed the lawsuit. The East End group has contended it was being denied its right to religious freedom. Southampton Town and the Villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue, along with the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon, are all involved in the case.
Of the two remaining lawsuits, lawyers on both sides said they sensed Wexler is trying to push ahead and might have the cases resolved this year. But they also predicted it will likely end up in the Court of Appeals, where a case typically can last six to nine months.
The case "is like an onion and there are multiple layers. Eventually we'll get to the center of it, but right now we're just peeling away the layers," said Brian Sokoloff, an attorney representing the village of Westhampton Beach.