Sukkah in Union Sq. Park, NY
Sukkah in Union Sq. Park, NYReuters
Agudath Israel of America has joined in an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in a case that could have an impact on the ability of the Orthodox Jewish community and its institutions to be accommodated by government and receive government benefits.

The specific case involves the legality of a Christian religious symbol in Bayview Park in Pensacola, Florida. The presence of the symbol was challenged in U.S. District Court as being a violation of the Establishment Clause and the Court ordered the symbol removed. That decision is being appealed.

The brief was written by attorneys with the law firm of Jones Day on behalf of Jews for Religious Liberty, Agudath Israel of America, the Coalition for Jewish Values, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. It argues that individuals who oppose government benefits and accommodations to religious institutions should not have legal “standing” to go to court and challenge them simply because they are offended.

Lighting U.S. National Chanukah Menorah on Ellipse in Washington
Lighting U.S. National Chanukah Menorah on Ellipse in WashingtonReuters

Generally, the law is that a plaintiff needs to show that he is personally, directly affected by the actions of the defendant. Otherwise his claim is dismissed because he lacks legal “standing”. The brief points out that the Supreme Court has made it clear that merely because an individual is offended by perceived government support or endorsement of religion does not give that person a right to legally challenge the issue in court.

The brief mentions that cases have been brought challenging the display of Chanukah menorahs in public places, the installation of eruvin (which enable observant Jews to carry on the Sabbath), and even the erection of sukkahs (structures that observant Jews utilize during the holiday of Sukkot). Such challenges undermine religious liberty. To avoid them, the brief argues, courts should maintain a strict “standing” threshold, as the Supreme Court has required in a broad array of contexts.

Rabbi Mordechai Biser, Special Counsel to Agudath Israel, said, “If the court accepts our legal position, it would establish an important precedent that would protect religious freedom for all Americans.”