A religious-liberties battle of close to ten years is seemingly coming to an end this week in the Hamptons.
Since 2008, members of the Hampton Synagogue on Sunset Avenue have been trying to erect an eruv in Westhampton Beach and neighboring Quogue, both villages within the town of Southampton. It appears that on Thursday, this battle will be over.
The East End Eruv Association, the group promoting the eruv, approached Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority for permission to use roughly 30 utility poles to erect the eruv, but the administrators of the town and two villages objected. After years of court battles, Southampton settled with the association last fall, followed by Quogue this spring, and Westhampton Beach is likely to do the same after a public hearing on Thursday, reports the New York Times.
Part of what has attracted so much attention to the dispute is that opponents of the eruv have included secular Jews.
It took three separate court case to see the eruv through.
In 2011, the eruv association sued the municipalities after they threatened to fine the utilities if they allowed the eruv to be installed. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York found in 2014 that the utilities had not violated their franchise agreements with Westhampton Beach and installation of part of the eruv could legally proceed.
Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, the secular group opposing the eruv, tried to intervene in that case in 2013. Its suit was dismissed twice, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejecting the argument that placing an eruv on ostensibly public property violated the First Amendment. The final case, decided last fall by the State Supreme Court in Riverhead, found that Southampton had erred when the town’s zoning board rejected the eruv.
Being that some of the cases involved civil rights claims, when the municipalities lost in court, the town and villages became liable to pay the eruv association’s legal fees, which total in the millions of dollars. The group’s law firm, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, agreed to waive those fees if the municipalities settled.
“[The group opposed to the eruv] claim it’s a wonderful, diverse village, and we agree, and we don’t want to see that change either, and an eruv isn’t going to change that,” Yehudah Buchweitz, a partner at the firm, said.
In 2015, a panel of federal judges upheld a lower court judge’s ruling that the eruv can stay.
“Religious freedom is triumphing in the Hamptons,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for the East End Eruv Association, said at the time.
“No reasonable observer who notices the strips on LIPA utility poles would draw the conclusion that a state actor is thereby endorsing religion,” the judges wrote in their ruling.
The eruv was finally constructed last August after receiving the go-ahead of a federal judge.
Among those who led the push for the eruv was Marvin Tenzer, who also happened to live in Tenafly, N.J., where a similar fight was waged a decade ago, ultimately coming down in favor of that eruv association, as well.
“What amazes me is, everyone complained the eruv would be ugly and ruin the town, and now everyone is complaining that they can’t even find it,” Tenzer said.