By Joel Grossbarth
After only a few weeks of savoring a win against a religious girls school in Rockland County Supreme Court, the Town of Clarkstown is again defending itself from a lawsuit filed by Ateres Bais Yaakov, this time in United States Federal Court. In a lawsuit filed this week, the religious girls school claims that the Town of Clarkstown violated its constitutional and statutory rights through what is described as a “a calculated and discriminatory effort to prevent Ateres Bais Yaakov, a registered Jewish school from closing in its purchase of Grace Baptist Church” in Nanuet.
In December a Supreme Court Judge in Rockland County dismissed a lawsuit filed by Ateres Bais Yaakov claiming the Town improperly failed to consider its applications for variances and permits. The Rockland Judge found that after Ateres did not close on the property in time and Grace Baptist Church notified the Town that it no longer honored the contract, the Town was justified in refusing to entertain the applications submitted by Ateres. Several weeks ago, the Town of Clarkstown bought the property and closed on the former Grace Baptist Church property.
Now, in its federal lawsuit, Ateres is seeking monetary damages against the Town for the alleged violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (commonly known by the acronym RLUIPA), claimed multiple civil rights violations and claimed violations of the New York State and Federal Constitutions.
What was glaringly omitted from Ateris’s federal Complaint was the fact it was Ateris who did not timely close on the property when it had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, the Town will have to spend taxpayers’ money to defend itself from the current lawsuit filed by Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy. Ateris is currently operating out of a small facility in New Hempstead and has been looking for a site to enlarge and develop its religious school for girls.
In addition to suing the Town of Clarkstown and Supervisor George Hoehmann, Ateres also sued the citizens’ group known as Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhood, or “CUPON of Greater Nanuet. Ateres is represented by the same firm that undertook the case in Rockland County Supreme Court. The town and the other defendants have yet to file an answer to the current lawsuit. Based upon prior, similar claims made against municipalities in Rockland, it may be years before this case is decided, unless a disposition is made sooner by the federal judge.