A public utility company is permitted to enter into an agreement with a private Jewish group to erect displays of religious significance on the utility poles said the courts on January 6, 2015.
In 2008, there was discussion of putting up an eruv in the Village of Westhampton Beach. An eruv is a religious boundary that permits observant Jews within the enclosed space to carry and push items on the Sabbath, which, under ordinary circumstances, is forbidden. This boundary is usually established by attaching strips of woods to telephone poles around the community, thereby requiring private contracts with telephone companies.
A religious group called the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach (or JPOE) sued the Village of Westhampton Beach to oppose the erection of the eruv, arguing that it was a wrongful exception to Jewish practices on the Sabbath and that the government, which was contracting with private parties to establish the eruv, was overtly endorsing one sect of religion over another.
Courts said on January 6, 2015 that it is lawful for public utility companies to erect eruvs as part of a contract with a private party. LIPA’s contract to erect an eruv using its telephone poles was neutral and did not establish a noticeable and overt display of religion throughout the town. In fact, no reasonable observer would conclude from the strips of wood on the utility poles that the government was endorsing one religion over another. Furthermore, since private parties had agreed to finance, install and maintain the strips on the utility poles, there was no excessive government entanglement with religion.
This decision is a victory for religious freedom as a fundamental First Amendment right but is also a victory for real estate in the area. As the strips of woods on the telephone poles are not very noticeable, they will not in any way diminish the appearance of the community. In fact, real estate sales and rentals may skyrocket in the Village of Westhampton Beach now since observant Jews will seek out the community for its eruv.