Texas Court Rules Against Homeowners’ Association Seeking to Enjoin Rabbi From Using Home as Synagogue

By:  Evan J. Seeman and Dwight Merriam of Robinson & Cole, LLP

Updating our previous post, a Texas court, in Schneider v. Gothelf, No. 429-04998-2013-00 (Collin Co. TX Dist. Ct.), has ruled against a homeowners’ association which sought a temporary injunction to stop a synagogue, Toras Chaim, from holding services a couple of times a day for 25 worshippers in a single-family residence subject to the association’s deed restrictions.  The association alleges the synagogue use violates the deed restrictions limiting homes to residential use.  David Schneider, an association homeowner, sued his neighbor Rabbi Yaakov Rich, for using a 3,700-square-foot home as an Orthodox synagogue.  Mr. Schneider also claims the synagogue use has reduced the value of his property and he wants $50,000 in compensatory damages.  The homeowners’ association intervened and moved for a temporary injunction to enjoin the single-family home’s use as a synagogue.

Rabbi Yaakov Rich, represented by the Liberty Institute (the Institute describes itself as: “an influential non-profit law firm, dedicated to defending and restoring religious liberty across America”), has asserted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Act (RLUIPA) in defending using his home as a synagogue.  Although the court did not consider whether RLUIPA applies to private agreements between private individuals, such as those in a homeowners’ association, the court was not persuaded by the association that the synagogue has changed the character of the neighborhood and denied the motion for a temporary injunction.  Reportedly, Toras Chaim had been operating elsewhere in the neighborhood for three years without objection.

The Liberty Institute lawyer representing Toras Chaim says that:  “There are tens of thousands of Americans who have prayer meetings and small groups at their homes.  We think those rights should be protected for everyone, whether it’s a Christian family or a Jewish congregation.”  The Liberty Institute’s brief in opposition to the association’s motion for a temporary injunction can be accessed here.  For local coverage of the story, click here.

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