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Congregation Kol Ami v. Abington Township

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
2004 WL 1837037 (2004)


Facts

An ordinance in Abington Township, Pennsylvania (Township) (defendant) required religious institutions seeking to locate in residential neighborhoods to apply for a variance with the Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) of Abington while other entities, such as kennels, municipal complexes, and utility facilities, were permitted to locate in such areas by special exemption. Filing of a variance required the religious institution to demonstrate unnecessary hardship while a special exemption merely required an entity to show that the zoning ordinance permitted the use and that the particular use applied for was consistent with the public interest. A Reform Jewish Synagogue, the Congregation Kol Ami (Kol Ami) (plaintiff), applied to the ZHB for a variance or special exemption to operate a house of worship in a residential area. The ZHB denied Kol Ami’s request, even though Kol Ami’s property had served a religious purpose since 1951, first as a Catholic house of worship and then Greek Orthodox. The latter was given a variance to conduct religious activities by the ZHB. Kol Ami wanted to expand religious services and the synagogue’s parking lot. Kol Ami filed suit against the Township alleging violations of the First Amendment, Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Pa-RFRA). Kol Ami and the Township filed several motions. The court conducted a hearing on the motions.

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Holding and Reasoning (Newcomer, J.)

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