ACLU of Pennsylvania Supports Congregation's Fight for Religious Freedom

January 7, 2002 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA–Citing the “constitutional promise of religious freedom,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania today announced its support for members of Congregation Kol Ami in their fight to use a former Catholic convent as a synagogue.

At a news conference today in Abington, a town of 56,000 just outside Philadelphia, the ACLU joined other civic and religious organizations in calling on the Abington Township Board of Commissioners to end its two-year opposition to the Congregation’s proposed use of the convent.

“Sadly, the dispute in Abington is not all that unusual here in America,” said Larry Frankel, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “During the last ten years, there have been numerous incidents of zoning laws being used in a discriminatory manner that burdens the free exercise of religion.”

In response to those incidents, Congress unanimously passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person Act in June of 2000. Frankel explained that “the law protects the constitutional promise of religious freedom and the fundamental right to worship free from unfair and unnecessary governmental interference.”

The ACLU strongly supported passage of the land use law because many religious communities had been subjected to arbitrary and discriminatory zoning decisions. The ACLU joined with many other organizations in urging Congress to address the substantial burdens local land use agencies were imposing on religious institutions.

“The problems facing Congregation Kol Ami are exactly the problems addressed by Congress,” said Frankel. “We think that the Abington Township Commissioners should follow the lead of Congress and honor the principles of religious freedom and the right of Congregation Kol Ami to worship.”

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