Court Upholds Right of Jewish Day School to Hold Sunday Classes

A New York State appeals court has upheld the right of a Jewish day school to hold Sunday classes which a local zoning board had refused to allow, according to the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA).

The right of the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. to hold Sunday classes was sustained by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, sitting in Brooklyn. Dennis Rapps, COLPA executive director, reporting that the appellate court issued its ruling on November 5, said COLPA member Irving Rotter represented the day school in the appeals court hearings.

Rotter said the day school had been operating since the fall of 1977 under a special use permit in a residentially-zoned area of Kings Points, Monday through Friday. In the fall of 1979, the day school began to conduct Sunday classes which exceeded the authority granted the school in the special permit and thus violated Kings Point zoning rules.

When Kings Point officials notified the day school it was violating its permit, the school applied to the Zoning Board for an amendment to the special permit so it could continue the Sunday school classes which it had been holding for about three months.

In February, 1980, the Zoning Board rejected the request for an amendment and issued a warning summons to the school which shortly thereafter suspended the Sunday class which had been in effect.

ZONING BOARD’S REASONING

The Zoning Board declared that it had denied the request for an amendment partly on grounds of insufficient parking facilities for the Sunday program. A Kings Point zoning rule requires one off-street parking place for every two persons accomodated in a facility needing such places. The day school has 30 parking places but nearly 150 students.

The Zoning Board distinguished Sunday from week days for school functioning on grounds more cars would be used to transport students on Sundays “which would be incompatible with the normal tranquility of the area at that time and on that day of the week.”

The day school challenged the Zoning Board ruling in a suit before the State Supreme Court of Nassau county in July 1983. The board’s rejection was upheld by Justice Thomas Pantano, supporting the board’s arguments on the parking space problem.

The appellate court held that the offside parking requirement could not be constitutionally applied against the day school. The court held that while the day school was not immune from reasonable regulation of its operations, the school “may not be prohibited from conducting a Sunday educational and religious program for the same reasons which would justify exclusion or restriction of commercial activities.”

The appellate court listed these as “including the disruption of the tranquility customarily enjoyed by neighboring property owners on Sunday mornings by the noise and automobile traffic that might be generated by commerical activities.

Rotter said the ruling reaffirmed the principle of governmental accommodation of the needs of religious institutions. He said that while an appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, by Kings Point Village was a possibility, village official had not indicated whether they planned to appeal the appellate court ruling.

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