May 21, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 21, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Using Federal Law to Shield Our Synagogues

Lately, Jewish communities in New York have been facing increasing harassment, particularly at their synagogues. A notable incident involved a rally in Teaneck—home to a significant Jewish population—where protesters aggressively blocked a synagogue’s entrances, intimidating attendees. Many feel helpless, believing the protesters are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. However, there’s a powerful federal law that can help: The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. Although it’s best known for protecting access to abortion clinics, it also shields those trying to access their places of worship. In essence, the FACE Act can be a potent tool against protests that disrupt synagogue events.

 

What the FACE Act Covers

The FACE Act is there to ensure people can freely practice their religion at their place of worship without facing threats, intimidation or physical barriers. It penalizes anyone who, by force, threat or obstruction, tries to interfere with individuals lawfully practicing their religion at a place of worship. Additionally, the law allows victims to take legal action, seeking remedies such as injunctions, damages and coverage of legal fees. Interestingly, victims can choose to receive $5,000 per violation instead of proving their actual damages.

 

Breaking Down FACE Act Violations

To fall under the FACE Act, unacceptable behaviors include using force, making serious threats, or physically blocking access to synagogues. “Force” can mean any violent or aggressive act against a person, even if it’s minor. A “threat of force” has to be serious enough to scare someone into believing violence will occur. “Physical obstruction” means any action that makes entering or leaving a place of worship difficult or dangerous. It’s important to note that not all protests count as obstruction; legitimate protests that don’t block access are allowed.

 

Injury, Interference or Intimidation Explained

The FACE Act focuses on actions intended to harm, scare or prevent access to places of worship. “Injury” refers to physical harm, “interfere with” means limiting someone’s freedom to move, and “intimidate” involves making someone fear they might be harmed. These definitions help clarify the types of behavior the law aims to prevent.

 

Recognizing a Place of Worship

A place of worship under the FACE Act is any location primarily used for religious ceremonies. This broad definition ensures various worship spaces are protected under the law.

 

Private Citizens Can Seek Protection Through the FACE Act

To enforce the FACE Act, one can seek injunctive relief, which includes temporary or permanent orders to stop prohibited actions. The criteria for obtaining such relief involve proving a likelihood of winning the case and that there’s a risk of irreparable harm without the injunction. Courts will also consider the potential impact on others and the public interest.

In conclusion, the FACE Act offers a robust defense for synagogues facing harassment, going beyond its widely recognized role of safeguarding abortion clinic access. By understanding and utilizing this federal law, communities can effectively challenge the intimidation and blockades that threaten their right to worship freely and securely.

A legal memo is available upon request at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles