A Jewish group is waging a fight in federal court to keep the officials of a beach community on Long Island, New York, from turning their worship and outreach property into a lifeguard center.
The village of Atlantic Beach has other options for building the lifeguard center closer to the beach but chose to take the property in violation of the Jewish group’s constitutional rights, the federal lawsuit alleges.
“The government must have a very compelling reason to seize a religious organization’s property. Taking a religious organization’s property to use it as the operations center for lifeguards is not a compelling reason,” said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, which is representing the Jewish group. “This is not a neutral act by an indifferent city council but seems to be the type of religious hostility that has no place in our country.”
Chabad Lubavitch of the Beaches, a Hasidic Jewish movement affiliate, purchased the property in November 2021 to use for worship, outreach and Jewish education.
The property, 2025 Park Street, had been vacant for years — and was up for sale or lease for two years before the purchase.
After the deal was completed and the group had held a lighting of a menorah outdoors, village officials moved in February to take the property through eminent domain, which allows the government to take private property for public use with fair compensation.
A spokesperson from the village did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the dispute.
The south shore village has a population of about 1,700 people.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert, a Clinton appointee, issued a temporary restraining order against the village from taking further action against the land and set a hearing on the matter for later this month.
Robert Tuttle, a law and religion professor at George Washington University, said this case appears to be a long shot for the Jewish group, noting that such challenges to eminent domain don’t typically succeed.
But Douglas Laycock, a religious liberty law professor at the University of Virginia, said in this particular scenario, a lifeguard stand could potentially go “in a lot of places.”
“It is hard to imagine a good reason for taking this property instead of some alternative,” he said.