PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Congregants who worship at the nation's oldest synagogue in Rhode Island asked an appeals court on Tuesday to reconsider a decision that gave control of the building to a congregation in New York City.
Lawyers for the congregation at Touro Synagogue asked the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston for a rehearing, saying the decision ignored Rhode Island law and made several constitutional errors.
"In light of the panel's errors, which significantly alter constitutional jurisprudence, and the importance of Touro, an American icon, this case strongly merits rehearing," lawyers for Newport's Congregation Jeshuat Israel wrote.
A three-judge panel last month found that Manhattan's Congregation Shearith Israel, the nation's oldest Jewish congregation, owns Touro Synagogue and a set of Colonial-era bells valued at $7.4 million. It overturned a lower court's decision putting control of Touro in the hands of the Newport worshippers.
Lou Solomon, who represents the New York congregation and heads its board of trustees, said in an email Tuesday that the decision was thoughtful, well-reasoned and unanimous, and pointed out that the panel included a retired U.S. Supreme Court justice, David Souter.
"Shearith Israel awaits (the Newport congregation's) return to the business of caring for the Touro Synagogue rather than pursuing meritless litigation," he wrote.
The Newport congregation argued Tuesday that the appeals panel ruling conflicts with past court decisions that govern church property disputes. It also said the ruling ignores state law and the findings of the office of Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, which determined Touro was held in trust for the benefit of the Jewish populace in Newport.
Kilmartin's spokeswoman said Tuesday that the office plans to file papers to the court supporting the Newport congregation's petition for a rehearing by Sept. 12.
Touro was dedicated in 1763 and is a national historic site.