It appears the city of Dallas is forcing the closure of a 25-member Jewish congregation that has been meeting for a number of years in a suburban residence.
There’s no legal impediment to that – the zoning specifically allows religious use of properties.
But what the city is doing is refusing to approve parking arrangements for the few dozen attendees.
“City officials have failed to follow the laws that protect this small congregation from unreasonable regulations,” said Chelsey Younman, counsel for First Liberty Institute, which is working on the cause for Congregation Toras Chaim.
“Dallas is a diverse city that should welcome this small Jewish congregation and protect its ability to operate.”
First Liberty took the fight to court after the city’s Board of Adjustments denied a parking variance for the group.
The members, although they drive to other events during the week, don’t even drive their cars on their Sabbath, which means if the local site is shut down, it likely means the congregation is shut down.
The congregation has been meeting in a North Dallas home since 2013, much like others who meet in their homes for a Bible study, small groups, games or more. At the city’s request and in an effort to meet all city requirements, CTC applied for a parking variance.
That would, First Liberty explained, let CTC to continue meeting in the home.
But now, the Dallas Board of Adjustment rejected CTC’s parking variance application, denying the congregation their basic religious liberty rights, First Liberty said.
First Liberty is in court arguing that decision imposes unnecessarily burdensome restrictions on the congregation, and more.
“CTC cooperated with the city throughout in trying to find a solution that would allow it to continue worshiping at its location,” said Chad Walker, a partner with Winston & Strawn. “Now CTC is asking the courts to apply the law to the city of Dallas to protect this small congregation.”
“We only want to do what is right and good for all. The city of Dallas has left us no choice. It is my hope that the courts will protect our right to worship G-d as proscribed by our faith in our current location,” said Rabbi Yaakov Rich in a prepared statement.
The complaint in District Court in Collins County explains that opposition is coming from the neighbors apparently just because they don’t like the look of a handful of cars around there.
The fight, which erupted a number of years ago when the city demanded a new certificate of occupancy for their building, already has seen the city complain over handicap accessibility issues, fire code issues, building code issues, and parking.
Originally, for 25 members, the city wanted 27 parking slots.
That later was lowered to 12, and the congregation got permission from a nearby school to use a few of those.
The city’s decision rejecting a parking plan, however, provided “no reason – literally no for its decision other than its mere recitation of the three factors at issue…”
The decision, the complaint explains, “violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Perons Act as well as a related state law.”
The action seeks a temporary restraining order against the parking limit, and a permanent injunction to prevent harm to the plaintiffs.
“Those limitations also mean that CTC cannot grow its membership beyond the people livning the neighborhood who wish to attend. It also means that the meeting place cannot move outside the immediate area,” the filing said.
“Denying the [parking permission] would force dozens of members to sell their homes and relocate to an entirely different neighborhood.”
The complaint seeks a hearing on the refusal to allow the parking, and a permanent injunction halting enforcement of the decision.