The federal government accused a village of religious discrimination Tuesday for denying a zoning variance to a residence used by Orthodox Jews so they can visit a hospital on the Sabbath without breaking their religious law against driving on that day.
In a lawsuit filed in White Plains, the government said that in denying the variance for a Shabbos House, the Rockland County village of Suffern was violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. It requested an injunction against enforcement of any village laws that would hinder the group's religious practice.
"This lawsuit enforces Congress' determination that local zoning regulations must give way when they unlawfully burden religious exercise," US Attorney Michael Garcia said.
A village attorney, Terry Rice, said that while he had not seen the lawsuit, the agency that requested the variance "did not claim it was a religious use." Suffern is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of midtown-Manhattan.
"The zoning board applied New York state law and had no choice but to deny" the variance, he said.
The lawsuit says that from 1988 to 2004, Bikur Cholim Inc., an Orthodox Jewish service agency, provided meals and lodging for Orthodox Jews on the Sabbath and other holy days in a Shabbos House on the grounds of Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern. That allowed followers who wanted to visit or transport patients to avoid driving to or from the hospital on the Sabbath.