The Wall Street Journal reports: Westhampton Beach, N.Y. – A telephone pole in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., which Orthodox Jews want to use to create an eruv in the community.An Orthodox Jewish group trying to erect an eruv in the Hamptons filed a suit in federal court Thursday, alleging that local officials are discriminating against them and violating their constitutional right to freedom of religion.
The East End Eruv Association is suing officials in the villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue, as well as Southampton town.
As The Journal reported earlier, the nonprofit wants to erect a symbolic boundary that allows Orthodox Jews to conduct certain activities otherwise prohibited during the Sabbath, such as pushing strollers or carrying objects. The boundary, known as an eruv, can be created by natural boundaries or wire or wooden markings on utility poles.
There are dozens of eruvin in Jewish communities across the region, most of which go unnoticed.
Last year Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority gave the East End Eruv Association preliminary approval to put lechis — small wooden markings — in a boundary that includes all of Westhampton Beach and the hamlet of Quigue, as well as parts of Quogue village and Westhampton. All of the communities are in the town of Southampton.
Quogue and Southampton officials have sent Verizon letters indicating that municipal approval is required to affix the lechis on the poles and doing so would be violating existing signage laws. The letters, the suit says, have prevented Verizon and LIPA from executing the contracts necessary to establish the eruv.
The lawsuit also claims the signage laws that some local officials say would be violated are not strictly enforced and that the lechis are not signs.
“The object, motivation, and effect of the actions of the Defendants is to suppress the religious practices of the plaintiffs and other Orthodox Jews,” the suit says. “These actions have specifically targeted Jewish citizens, as the laws that the Defendants seek to invoke to prevent the establishment of the Eruv is not enforced against citizens of other faiths.”
The suit seeks an injunction to prevent officials from interfering in the creation of an eruv, as well as damages and legal fees.
Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller said he knew nothing about the suit and had no comment. “There is no request to establish an eruv before us,” he said. Other local officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Controversy over the proposed eruv has raged in Westhampton Beach since 2008, when the issue was first presented to local officials. The proposal was abandoned because of staunch community opposition, which included the formation of a group, Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv. Opponents fear that eruv will change the character of the community and attract an influx of Orthodox Jews.
“It’s like social engineering,” said Arnold Sheiffer, founder of the opposition group. “We [the Jewish people] fought like hell to get out of the ghetto and now they want to create that again. The opposition in the village here is very, very high.”