By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
One of my listeners alerted me to a Glenn Beck Radio segment on a story of religious discrimination that I wrote about in 2015, in a guest blog on Ward Lucas’ Neighbors at War blog.
In case you missed it…
A small Orthodox Jewish Congregation in a Dallas neighborhood, Toras Chaim, governed by Highlands of McKamy IV & V homeonwers’ association, became the target of a lawsuit from a homeowner, David Schneider, who then managed to become a board member. At that point, Schneider and a few of his allies on the board decided that the HOA would sue Rabbi for various bogus covenant violations, with the ultimate goal, it seems, of driving the congregation out of the community.
Ultimately, Rabbi Yaakov Rich and his Congregation won that legal battle, only to face even more challenges by the City of Dallas.
A brief history as reprinted from my guest blog in 2015:
1st Amendment Win for Orthodox Jewish Congregation
guest blog by Deborah Goonan, Feb, 10, 2015 (Neighbors At War)
Just this week, a Colin County, Texas judge threw out an HOA’s case against owners of a home used as an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. The legal battle began in 2013, when an owner by the name of David R. Schneider independently sued the Congregation Toras Chaim and the owners of the dwelling, Mark and Judith Gothelf, for allegedly violating restrictive covenants specifying “single family” use. The HOA intervened in the case in 2014, shortly after Mr. Schneider was elected to the Board of Highlands of McKamy IV & V HOA.
The Liberty Institute assisted the Gothelfs and the Congregation free of charge. Haynes and Boone LLP also represented the Congregation.
Of course, the media and Liberty Institute are reporting the victory for the small Jewish congregation. They are now permitted to continue using the Gothelf’s home as a synagogue for their small congregation. The Judge dismissed the case primarily based upon two applicable Texas laws: The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Both statutes invalidate restrictive covenants against use of real property as a religious institution, upholding First Amendment rights.
Reading the lengthy Motion for Summary Judgment filed by attorneys for the defense, available from the Liberty Institute news release, it was obvious that Mr. Schneider, representing himself, and the HOA, represented by their attorney, had no chance of prevailing. In addition to the obvious violations of religious freedom rights, there were hundreds of pages of case law to back up at least a half dozen affirmative defenses, and transcripts of depositions of Rabbi Rich, Mark Gothelf, Mr. Schneider and two other HOA Board members.
So what exactly happened in Highlands of McKamy IV & V HOA?
Well, it was another typical story of HOA conflict. From 2011 – August 2013, before the Orthodox Jewish Congregation moved the location of their gatherings from one home in Highlands of McKamy to another one across the street from David Schneider, there had been no complaints from neighbors or the HOA.
It often takes just one person, in this case Mr. Schneider, to instigate conflict in an HOA. And that conflict is almost always about some alleged or trumped up violation of a restrictive covenant or Board enacted rule. And quite often – as was the case this time – the restriction itself is unconstitutional at the state or federal level, or both.
Based upon testimony supplied by the Rabbi, Mr. Gothelf, Schneider and two other Board members, the reader recognizes the typical hallmarks of HOA conflict:
· A ringleader (Schneider) that organizes an allegedly questionable “election” based upon proxies that are not adequately handled in an unmonitored election process
· A Board President that pushes his own personal agenda as soon as he’s elected
· A Board member with a history of being difficult to get along with, that has a history of suing people
· Fellow Board members that follow the Board President’s lead
· Questionable record-keeping and official document storage and handling practices
· Board members that are unfamiliar with HOA law and/or their own governing documents
· A Board that fails to heed their HOA attorney’s advice, yet that attorney is complicit in filing a case he knows has a high probability of failing
· The tendency of a Board to keep the cost of this legal challenge a secret
· A divided membership, resulting in angry homeowners and a Board recall attempt that is successful in removing Mr. Schneider in July 2014, but not the remaining Board members
· Negative attention for the HOA in the local media, and by word of mouth
· Over a year of stress and unnecessary legal expense for the Gothelfs and the Congregation
Hopefully, this will end the campaign against the Congregation, many of them neighbors in the HOA. I certainly hope there will not be an appeal. The good Rabbi Rich is wise when he states, “We don’t view this as a victory. The victory would be when the whole neighborhood comes together.”
The dismissal of the HOA’s lawsuit wasn’t the end of the story
Unfortunately, when a Judge ruled in favor of the Congregation Toras Chaim, Rabbi Rich and his small congregation became the target of abuse from some of their neighbors. According to several reports, Rabbi’s car has been spray painted with swastikas.
Plus, almost as soon as the case with the HOA was thrown out of court, the City of Dallas cited the owners of the Rabbi’s home for various safety and parking code violations that normally apply to houses of worship.
Although the Congregation has made every effort to comply with codes such as creating a larger entrance to the home, one major hurdle remains.
Dallas Board of Adjustment insists that, because Rabbi’s home is being used as a place of worship, it must supply 13 parking spaces — one of them designated for people with disabilities.
First Liberty Institute worked with the Congregation to formally request a variance to this code, seeking the addition of not more than 6 parking spaces. Notably, the Congregation is very small — only 20 families. Additionally, due to their religious beliefs, members of Toras Chaim do not drive to the home-based synagogue on the Sabbath — they walk. A typical service is attended by less than 20 individuals. For weekly small group religious instruction, individual members have made arrangements to park outside of the subdivision.
On the other hand, other members of the McKamy neighborhood who gather for bible study or football season parties don’t have to comply with onerous parking space requirements, even though their groups are often larger than gatherings of Congregation Toras Chaim.
First Liberty Institute argued there’s no need to go to the expense of installing and maintaining a small parking lot on the Congregation’s property. In fact, the cost of complying with the parking requirement is not affordable for such a small Congregation.
If the City of Dallas insists upon enforcing its parking code, imposing fines of $1,000 per day, Congregation Toras Chaim will be forced to disband, and members will have to move to another location to attend services within walking distance of their homes.
Despite these legal arguments, in April the City of Dallas rejected the request for variance.
In its complaint against the City of Dallas, First Liberty’s attorney explains that a small vocal minority members of the HOA don’t like the view of parked cars in front of the home where worship takes place. Those neighbors, the suit contends, have “agitated” city code enforcement with regard to the parking issue.
Attorneys for Toras Chaim point out that an aesthetic concern is not sufficient for the City to essentially deny the Congregation the right to worship in the home.
Specifically, the suit states that they City’s actions violate religious discrimination and Constitutional laws. The Congregation seeks temporary and permanent injunctions to prevent the City from enforcing its parking code now that its board has denied the request for variance:
Not only did the Board fail to properly apply the factors to CTC’s request for a
variance of six (6) parking spaces, the Board’s decision also independently violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) and Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“TRFRA”). Furthermore, the Board’s decision, as applied to CTC members, discriminates against CTC members based on their religious beliefs and inhibits their ability to freely exercise their religion, violating Article I, Sections 3, 3a, 6, and 8 of the Texas Constitution,
as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Therefore, Petitioners respectfully request that the Court issue a temporary restraining order, temporary injunction, and permanent injunction to prevent the imminent harm to Petitioners. Petitioners further respectfully request a declaratory judgment that the Board’s decision was in violation of
the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution, and the state and federal statutes effectuating the protections of constitutional rights.
See the following link, to follow this case, and view up to date information about the current legal case filed by First Institute.
The news of this ongoing saga reached talk radio personality Glenn Beck. He picked up on the story, and dedicated an entire segment to interviewing Rabbi Rich and two attorneys from First Liberty Institute (Jeremy Dice and Chelsey Youman).
In the summary, listen to the Rabbi describe how he and his Congregation have been isolated in their own community. Unfortunately, this is classic case of HOA abuse directed at one or more unwanted residents, by a handful of their mean-spirited neighbors
They won HOA legal battle; now, Jewish congregation is fighting city of Dallas to worship
MAY 10, 2018
Glenn Beck Radio
What’s going on?
An Orthodox Jewish congregation is being blocked from worshipping by the city of Dallas because their meetings supposedly don’t comply with city parking regulations … even though the congregants are required by their faith to walk on the Sabbath.
Read more (video):