First Liberty Wins Lawsuit Securing Religious Liberty for a Houston Synagogue

NRB | April 20, 2021 | Advocacy

In March 2021, NRB member First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston on behalf of Heimish of Houston, a small congregation in Houston, Texas. This week, First Liberty announced that city officials in Houston agreed to not enforce deed restrictions against the local congregation.

Heimish of Houston is a small Jewish congregation that has been meeting in a home near its congregants for the past two years. Because of their religious prohibition against driving on the Sabbath, the congregation is limited to holding religious gathering in their communities within feasible walking distance of its members. Many of the members of Heimish of Houston moved homes specifically in order to be near Heimish of Houston.

However, the City of Houston sought to enforce residential-use restrictive covenants against the congregation even though many businesses were allowed to operate in the neighborhood.

In August 2020, First Liberty sent a letter to city officials on behalf of Heimish of Houston arguing that both state and federal law protect the congregation from unreasonable regulations that substantially burden the free exercise of their religion.

The City of Houston offered no response to this letter, and in March 2021, First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the city.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, City officials in Houston reached out to First Liberty to settle the case.

“Religious freedom prevailed,” said Justin Butterfield, Deputy General Counsel for First Liberty Institute. “We are grateful that city officials followed federal and state laws protecting religious practice, and we are thrilled that Heimish of Houston can continue to meet the needs of its community. We are also hopeful that Houston’s response will serve as an example to other cities of how a diverse city can welcome people of all faiths.”

City officials agreed that they would not enforce deed restrictions against Heimish of Houston. The city further agreed to dismiss citations it had already issued against the congregation.

“We are excited that this is over and that we can continue to worship together as a community,” said Yakov Wohlgelernter of Heimish of Houston.

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