Gagliardi v. The City of Boca Raton, Fla.
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Searching for a house of worship
The Chabad of East Boca is an Orthodox Jewish ministry in Florida that provides religious worship, outreach, and educational services. Like many other faith groups, it needed a house of worship to meet the needs of its growing congregation. After searching for years, the Chabad finally found the ideal location, took all the necessary steps to build, and—after a long series of public meetings—received unanimous city council approval to move forward. The approval came under a 2008 zoning law that gave all houses of worship equal rights to build.
But a faction within the city who had failed to stop the Chabad then sued in federal court.
Opposition fueled by anti-Semitism
In 2007, the Chabad began encountering hostile, well-organized, and well-financed opposition to its construction plans. And after the building was unanimously approved in 2015, two local landowners filed a lawsuit in federal court to prevent construction. They openly admitted that some of the general opposition to the Chabad was driven by anti-Semitism. But they claimed that allowing the synagogue to be built discriminated against Christians—even though the 2008 city ordinance they challenged granted equal access for all faith groups, local Christian congregations supported the synagogue, and they had never been prevented from building a church.
In addition to the opposition to its building, the Chabad has also suffered a string of attacks in the last few years. A teenage member of the synagogue was physically assaulted on a public sidewalk and told to “go back to Auschwitz.” The ministry’s temporary home has been vandalized repeatedly: its glass mezuzahs containing sacred scripture were destroyed and stolen, and a glass synagogue door was smashed.
But the Chabad persevered and eventually prevailed.
Winning the right to build
The Chabad of East Boca, Inc. is represented by Becket, Kirkland & Ellis, and Weiss, Handler & Cornwell. In March 2016, the Chabad urged the court to dismiss the discriminatory lawsuit. After eight years of fighting for a house of worship, in July 2016, the court ruled in favor of the Chabad, saying the plaintiffs “fail[ed] to allege any injury at all.” In March 2017, the court again ruled in favor of the synagogue and dismissed the plaintiffs’ case. In April 2017, the opposing group appealed that decision. Stay tuned.