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Watchtower.judgment Access

Watchtower.judgment Access

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Published by John E. Mudd
Judgment in access to closed urbanizations by religious groups.
Judgment in access to closed urbanizations by religious groups.

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Published by: John E. Mudd on Mar 21, 2013
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03/23/2013

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTFOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICOWATCHTOWER BIBLE TRACTSOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC., et al.,Plaintiffs,v.MUNICIPALITY OF SANTA ISABEL, etal., Defendants.
 
Civil No. 04-1452 (GAG) AMENDED PARTIAL JUDGMENT AS TO UNMANNED URBANIZATIONS
Pursuant to the final disposition hearing held yesterday, March 20, 2013, the court herebyorders the following:1) All municipal defendants shall collect and deliver to Plaintiffs a means of access toall unmanned urbanizations located within their municipality. Depending on themeans of access, each urbanization shall deliver to Plaintiffs a physical key, anaccess code, beeper, or other device necessary to permit entry to the urbanization.The means of access provided to Plaintiffs must be equal to that of the residents of those urbanizations and must grant Plaintiffs unfettered access to the urbanizations,i.e., without restrictions.
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The court notes Plaintiffs object to this order on the basis that it may create an
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Establishment Clause violation by treating Jehovah’s Witnesses differently and more preferentiallythan other religious entities. Plaintiffs are correct in arguing the Establishment Clause bars thegovernment from promoting any particular religion over another, or generally, religious beliefs over non-religious beliefs. See Texas Monthly, Inc. v. Bullock, 489 U.S. 1, 8-9 (1989). The courtclarifies and states for the record that Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs did not alter the outcome of thecase. In the course of adjudicating Plaintiffs’ claims, the court must necessarily fashion a remedythat balances Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to religious speech and expression with the PuertoRico government’s right to protect its citizens. No other religious entities were a party to this action.Had other similarly situated religious groups joined Plaintiffs in these claims, they would have probably benefitted from the same remedies.
Case 3:04-cv-01452-GAG Document 978 Filed 03/21/13 Page 1 of 3
 
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Civil No. 04-1452 (GAG)
22) Defendants must provide the stated means of access to Plaintiffs no later than April17, 2013. Any municipality that has not complied with this order as of said date shall be fined $100 for each day until compliance with this order.3)Plaintiffs, acting under strict orders from the court, are to maintain the keys, beepersand access codes for the sole purpose of expressing their faith. Plaintiffs are not toshare the keys, beepers or access codes with any other party, person or organization.Violations of this order shall be deemed as contempt of court and shall be dealt withaccordingly.4)Any urbanization that changes its means of accessing its public streets must notifythe municipality in which it is located and Plaintiffs, prior to executing the change.The municipality shall be responsible for delivering the new means of access toPlaintiffs within twenty-four hours of the change.5)The court notes the inherent cooperation that will be necessary in order to implementthese directives. All parties have demonstrated their willingness to work together inresolving these thorny issues. The municipalities are expected to work in good-faithto ensure every urbanization complies with the court’s orders. The Jehovah’sWitnesses are equally expected to respect the court’s orders and to also respect property owners’ wishes. If a property owner places a sign on his property stating“No Trespassing,” the Jehovah’s Witnesses are expected to respect the wishes of the property owner.6)Finally, Plaintiffs seek court approval of all currently operated unmannedurbanizations. Plaintiffs rely upon the First Circuit opinion which states, “Thus, amanned guard gate for each urbanization is required, unless the urbanization carriesa burden of special justification.” See Watchtower Bible and Tract Soc’y of NewYork v. Municipality of Santa Isabel, 634 F.3d 3, 13 (2011). However, this opiniondid not require the court to make such determinations at this time. The court findsthat it would be more appropriate to allow the municipalities to initially determinewhether these urbanizations have sufficiently made the specific showing necessary
Case 3:04-cv-01452-GAG Document 978 Filed 03/21/13 Page 2 of 3

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