A religious zone established by Orthodox Jews in Westhampton Beach with the help of utility poles does not violate the separation of church and state outlined in the U.S. Constitution, a panel of federal judges has ruled.
The zone, called an eruv, allows Orthodox Jews to push strollers, carry keys and perform other tasks not otherwise allowed on the Sabbath or on High Holy Days. It has been in place for five months in Westhampton Beach and is marked, in part, by strips of black pipe attached to 45 poles owned by the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon.
Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach, a group opposing the eruv, argued in a 2012 lawsuit that it violates the part of the Constitution prohibiting the government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion."
U.S. Court of Appeals judges said Tuesday that LIPA's decision to allow markers on utility poles is constitutional. "No reasonable observer who notices the strips on LIPA utility poles would draw the conclusion that a state actor" is "endorsing religion," the three-judge panel wrote in the ruling.
Yehudah Buchweitz, an attorney representing the group that created the eruv, the East End Eruv Association, called the decision "a major statement against intolerance and in favor of religious freedom."
Jonathan Sinnreich, attorney for Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach, said he was disappointed, but respects the court's judgment.
"I do not believe there is any meaningful constitutional distinction between eruv as a religious symbol and such other, more familiar symbols as a cross or a Star of David," he said. "I truly do not believe that any of them belong on public property."
The eruv is still the subject of lawsuits involving Westhampton Beach Village, Quogue Village and Southampton Town. The East End Eruv Association has fought for four years to establish the eruv in both villages and an unincorporated part of the town in order to benefit congregants of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach.
East End Eruv Association spokesman Hank Sheinkopf said the eruv has gone largely unnoticed in five months in Westhampton Beach. "Life goes on in Westhampton as before, beautifully and pastorally," he said.