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Five Towns Synagogue Sparks Debate Over Religious Freedom, Homeowners' Rights

LAWRENCE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- It's a delicate balance, the rights of homeowners and freedom of religion.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported, in Long Island's Five Towns, one synagogue in the quiet Lawrence neighborhood on the water is making waves.

For 10 years a covenant was placed on Temple Bais Medrash, limiting its operations to weekend religious services. It's smack in the middle of a small upscale enclave with no sidewalks and little parking.

Congregants walk to synagogue on Sabbath.

Recently, temple leaders lobbied the zoning board during a heated hearing at a nearby club, that lasted well past midnight, and won the right to a 'trial one year expansion' to open their doors seven nights a week.

The decision provoked a neighborhood lawsuit.

"Difficult balance between rights of people to practice their faith and the rights of people to enjoy the ambiance and character of the neighborhood they moved into," the plaintiff's attorney, Christian Browne said.

The lawyer said the plaintiffs are in an awkward position. They fear their tiny street, with no outlet, will become clogged with cars for full service religious parties, lectures, and classes. Already Bais Medrash purchased the properties on either side, seeking to tear one down and convert it into a parking lot.

"It would bother me, it's my quiet little street," one neighbor said.

"As long as people are parking in legitimate spaces, not double parking," another added.

CBS2 tried to speak to the rabbi, but he said the case is too touchy. The president, who lives across the street, called it a private matter, and the mayor said the village zoning board is being sued and can't comment on pending litigation.

For now, the one year trial run is underway until, or unless neighbor litigants prove the village did not follow the law granting seven day, unrestricted use of the synagogue.


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