Congregation Kol Ami v. Abington Township
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Since its founding in 1994, Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform Jewish synagogue, has held worship services and other religious activities at a variety of temporary locations in the greater Philadelphia area. In 1997, it began searching for a permanent house of worship, and in early 1999, it began negotiations for the purchase of a property owned by a Catholic order of nuns.
In March 2001, the Abington Township Zoning Hearing Board refused to allow the congregation to use the facility for religious purposes, denying permission to continue “the prior nonconforming religious use of the Sisters’ property,” despite the fact that it had granted such permission just five years earlier to a different religious group based on the same set of facts. These modified township zoning laws resulted in an unreasonable burden on religious freedom. Furthermore, during hearings on Congregation Kol Ami’s application, some neighbors objected to the congregation’s move, with one stating flatly, “I don’t want a synagogue in my backyard.”
In April 2001, Becket represented Congregation Kol Ami in a lawsuit against Abington Township for discrimination against Jewish places of worship.
After prevailing in court, Kol Ami was able to settle the case on favorable terms.