Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America welcomed a decision by the United States Supreme Court denying a petition by the Town of Tenafly, New Jersey through which Tenafly sought to have the high court overturn the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals striking down Tenafly’s attempt to dissuade Orthodox Jews from moving into that town by denying them permission to construct an “eruv.”
The legal dispute arises from Tenafly’s determination to prevent Orthodox Jews who have recently moved to the town from erecting an “eruv,” a religious demarcation of area that allows Orthodox Jews to freely exercise their religious liberty to observe the Sabbath. According to Jewish Law, an Orthodox Jew may not convey moveable items from private property to public property (and vice versa) on the Sabbath without a symbolic demarcation of the area allowing him to do so. Such a demarcation can be accomplished by utilizing existing utility poles and wires, with minimal additions unrecognizable to the casual observer. The demarcation, or “eruv,” would allow parents of young children to be able to push strollers or the elderly or disabled to use wheelchairs and attend synagogue on the Sabbath and participate in communal prayers. Despite having erected the “eruv” with the consent of Bergen County, the Town of Tenafly denied the Jews permission to use its right-of-way for the “eruv” and ordered it taken down. The denial appears to have been motivated by a desire to dissuade Orthodox Jews from moving into Tenafly in larger numbers.
A federal trial judge upheld the town’s actions, that ruling was reversed by an appeals court which stated that – in denying permission to erect the eruv on the town’s utility poles while other items could be erected on those same poles for non-religious reasons -Tenafly was “selectively” applying this ordinance in a manner that “violates the neutrality [toward religion] principle” required by the Constitution because it “singles out the [Orthodox Jews’] religiously motivated conduct for discriminatory treatment.” The appeals court ordered the district court to enter an injunction barring the town from denying the eruv.
Nathan Diament stated that “the Orthodox Jewish community is deeply gratified that the federal appeals court recognized Tenafly’s actions for what they were – religious bigotry. By denying the town’s petition to further appeal the case, the Supreme Court has implicitly agreed with the appeals court’s understanding. The Tenafly eruv will stay up, a message has been sent by America’s courts that the construction of an eruv is perfectly constitutional; religious bigotry has been again repudiated and America is the better for it.”