Countersuit filed in Toras Chaim case

By Ben Tinsley

DALLAS —  The Liberty Institute is suing the city of Dallas on behalf of Congregation Toras Chaim — asserting Dallas officials are infringing on the religious rights of the small Orthodox Jewish community, which worships privately at a home in the 7100 block of Mumford Court in the Highlands of McKamy subdivision.
The Institute — a religious liberty advocacy and legal defense organization — filed this countersuit against Dallas officials April 6 in direct response to the city’s original March lawsuit against Congregation Toras Chaim.
The city contends the synagogue home has not complied with city ordinances addressing fire safety, handicap accessibility and parking.
But Liberty Institute and Congregation Toras Chaim officials say the improvements the city is asking could cost as much as $200,000.
“This small Jewish congregation is being victimized by unreasonable regulation and litigation,” said Justin Butterfield, Liberty Institute Senior Counsel.
Orthodox Jews do not drive on the Sabbath and typically live within walking distance of a synagogue.

Photo: Liberty Institute Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Justin Butterfield (left) stands with Rabbi Yaakov Rich. Rich’s car was defaced by a swastika in March.

Code violation

Dallas city officials say this action is simply a matter of code enforcement, and that they have no intention of restricting the location of synagogues or any other places of worship.
Dallas city officials, incidentally, have asked a district court judge to impose a $1,000-a-day fine against Congregation Toras Chaim and the house owners until they legally obtain a certificate of occupancy for non-residential use of that property.
This isn’t the first lawsuit against Congregation Toras Chaim. A district court judge in February dismissed a longstanding lawsuit filed by a neighbor who alleged operation of a synagogue in the Highlands of McKamy subdivision was forbidden under “private deed restrictions.”

More swastikas reported

Meanwhile, more swastikas have been discovered in the vicinity of Congregation Toras Chaim, where the 1997 Honda Accord of Toras Chaim Rabbi Yaakov Rich was discovered defaced by one in white paint in early March.
Rich at the time said finding a swastika on his car made him feel “completely violated.”
Two more swastikas apparently “drawn backwards on local fences” were spotted defacing that property, Rich said.
Rich said the second swastika was discovered on a fence behind a home bordering a neighbor on Meandering Way and the third on a fence behind one of the homes located where Meandering Way curves into Halprin Court.

Ongoing investigation

The investigation continues, although Dallas Police Det. Laura Martin said in an email that she only knows of one additional swastika, not two, spotted in that neighborhood.
Det. Martin said she has determined that the swastika offenses do fit the criteria for hate crime designation.
“We are operating under the assumption that all of the incidents are related so we would consider them all to be hate crimes,” she said.
The defacing of Rich’s vehicle was initially believed to be an isolated incident — although someone tore the mezuzah off the front door of Congregation Toras Chaim’s previous home in the same Highlands of McKamy subdivision about a year and half ago.
The house in the Highlands of McKamy has been Congregation Toras Chaim’s active synagogue for the group since 2011.
Anyone with a tip is encouraged to call the Dallas Police Department.

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