UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — Daniel Grand of University Heights has filed a federal lawsuit against the city claiming his constitutional rights were violated when the city threatened legal action over him trying to set-up prayer with some friends at his home.
Grand, who is of the Orthodox Jewish faith, told News 5 University Heights sent him cease and desist order claiming he was in violation of attempting to run a synagogue in a residential area without the proper permit after he tried to host some prayer with friends in January 2021
“I invited a few of my friends to come over Shabbos and that’s what we do, we have Thanksgiving basically every week," Grand said. “And the next thing I knew I received a cease and desist letter in the mail saying that I had attempted to operate and illegal place of assembly synagogue institution.”
Grant also mention the separation between church and state.
"People have a right to pray to God because they want to and they shouldn’t be told by the government that they can’t without a permit. It’s constitutional, there’s a separation between church and state, the concept, everybody knows what that means," he said.
Attorney Jonathan Gross said the federal lawsuit is seeking damages on several fronts and he hopes it will set a precedent on how city law attempts to control at-home prayer.
“It’s a 50-page complaint with 17 counts," Gross said. “We want him to be able to pray with his friends without having to get a permit from the government.”
You can view the official lawsuit here.
“And we want to use this as an example so that cities will not even consider crossing the line in other cases," Gross added.
News 5 covered a separate controversy in University Heights and Orthodox Jewish places of prayer in Sept.2021, after the city issued a restraining order to the residential Aleksander Shul or synagogue for allegedly violating it's occupancy permit, setting a limit or 36.
Mayor Dylan Michael Brennan said the order was issued over safety concerns, but residents said they were left in a panic when the city posted a private investigator in their neighborhood to keep watch on how many people were entering the Shul.
“I think that it shows a pattern and very strong evidence that they were targeting Orthodox Jewish prayer," Gross said. “We want to send a signal to cities all over the country that have similar laws, University Heights is not unique in this regard.”
Gross told News 5 that University Heights must amend its laws so at-home prayer rights aren't violated, and said the city now has 60 days to officially respond to Grand's federal lawsuit.
News 5 reached out University Heights and Mayor Dylan Michael Brennan for comment, but the city would only issue the following statement:
"It continues to be the policy of the City not to comment on any active court cases. The City will speak through court filings and in open court."
Meanwhile, Grand told News 5 he is receiving retaliation from the city in the form of violations, and the city refusing to grant him an occupancy permit. Grand hopes his lawsuit will make it clear to University Heights and other cities across the country that at-home prayer should not face governmental control.
“For them to kind of overstep their boundaries here and say Mr. Grand if we see anybody praying in your house you’re going to face criminal prosecution, that’s a serous threat, Grand said. "Religious faith is something that no government has the right to impose itself into or upon.”