Toms River Hires Legal Advisor With Anti-Religious Track Record

Toms River has hired a well-known advocate against the expansion of rights for faith groups to advise the township on legal questions of religious land use. Many of her recent cases have put her in opposition to Orthodox groups around the country.

According to a report by the Asbury Park Press, the Town Council’s move is aimed at avoiding further costly court losses such as a ruling earlier this year that struck down its attempts to block the operations of Toms River’s Chabad House. The ruling also made the town liable for over $120,000 in legal fees that were incurred by its director, Rabbi Moshe Gourarie.

Marci Hamilton teaches at Cardoza Law School and is a research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of a book and many articles about the dangers of broad applications of religious liberty. She represented the Town of Bourne, Texas in what was a far-reaching victory, where the Supreme Court struck down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as it applies to individual states.

She is considered an expert in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act (RILUPA). The law has received heighted national attention as the Justice Department recently launched a special program to raise awareness and enforcement of the law, rolling out the initiative with a federal suit against a northern New Jersey town engaged in an effort to block construction of a Chabad House.

More recently, her clients have suffered a string of losses in clashes with Orthodox groups including attempts to stymie construction of a new Chabad center in Boca Raton, an eruv in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, and of a kollel and affiliated housing in Pomona, New York.

Toms River will pay Marci Hamilton $50,000 to review and advise on its land use laws. Recently, several zoning restrictions have been called into question by the town’s growing Orthodox community including a law requiring 10 acres of land for the construction of a house of worship in some areas and various bylaws that some see as an attempt to slow development in the North Dover section which borders Lakewood.

The town’s administrator, Don Guardian said that he hoped Mrs. Hamilton would strike an effective balance between “ensuring that land use regulations impacting religious groups are legally sound while at the same time protective of the general welfare” and that she could offer the “the best representation possible in the event that litigation arises.”