Ruling favors group seeking eruv in Southampton Town

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A federal judge has ruled that Westhampton Beach Village laws do not prevent the creation of an eruv that Orthodox Jews have been seeking to establish in Southampton Town for three years.

The decision represents a partial victory for the East End Eruv Association, which is also embroiled in litigation with the Village of Quogue and Southampton Town.

An eruv is a religious zone that allows Orthodox Jews to push strollers and perform other activities not usually allowed outside the home on the Sabbath and on holy days. The association wants to create it around Westhampton Beach, Quogue and Quiogue -- a hamlet under the town's jurisdiction -- that primarily would serve congregants of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen Tomlinson of the Eastern District of New York said in her ruling Monday that the village has no laws on its books preventing the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon from allowing the association to attach markings called lechis -- in this case, pieces of piping -- to utility poles to mark the eruv's borders.

Tomlinson said the court did not have enough information to say whether the same is true for Quogue. She was silent on the case of Southampton Town.

Robert Sugarman, an attorney for the East End Eruv Association, said the group is trying to determine "whether there are any other issues that Westhampton Beach can raise." If not, the group will apply with LIPA and Verizon to create an eruv in Westhampton Beach temporarily, while decisions regarding Quogue and the town are pending, he said.

Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller said village officials "will be meeting with our attorney and our insurance company."

Brian Sokoloff, an attorney for the village, called the decision "disappointing" and said a constitutional issue the village raised remains unresolved.

"It's the village's position that it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to erect purely religious symbols on public property," he said. "No court has yet passed on that question."

Aside from about 60 lechis, the eruv would be invisible, the association said.

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Jeffrey Weir, a spokesman for PSEG Long Island, which manages LIPA's electric grid, said the utility "will proceed in accordance with the magistrate's order related to the license agreement for the Village of Westhampton Beach and will otherwise await the outcome of the remainder of the case." He declined further comment.

A Verizon spokesman declined to comment.

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