A letter of protest sent by the lawyers of Rabbi Levi Illulian in August alleged that city officials of Beverly Hills, California, had investigated their client’s home for hosting religious gatherings for his family, neighbors, and friends. Worse, the city used increasingly invasive means, including surveilling people visiting the rabbi’s home, and flying a surveillance drone over his property.
A “notice of violation” from the city specifically threatened Illulian with civil and criminal proceedings for “religious activity” at his home. The notice further prohibited all religious activity at Illulian’s home with non-residents.
With support from First Liberty Institute, the rabbi’s lawyers sent another letter detailing an egregious use of city resources to launch a “full-scale investigation against Rabbi Illulian” in which “city personnel engaged in multiple stakeouts of the home over many hours, effectively maintaining a governmental presence outside Rabbi Illulian’s home.”
The rabbi’s Orthodox Jewish friends and family who visited his home had also received parking citations. The rabbi began to receive visits from the police for noise disturbances, such as on Halloween when other houses on the street were sources of noise as well. Police even threatened to charge Rabbi Illulian with a misdemeanor, confiscate his music equipment, and cite a visiting musician for violating the city’s noise ordinance, despite the obvious double-standard.
First Liberty was active in publicizing the city’s actions. In the face of bad publicity about this aggressive enforcement, the city withdrew its violation notice late last year.
That the city of Beverly Hills would blatantly monitor and harass a household over Shabbat prayers and religious holidays, particularly at a time of rising antisemitism, is made all the worse by sophisticated forms of surveillance aimed at the free exercise of religion. So city officials managed to abuse the Fourth Amendment to impinge on the First Amendment.
This case is reminiscent of the surveillance of a church, Calvary Chapel San Jose, by Santa Clara, California, county officials, over its Covid-19 policies. Is there something about religious observances that attracts the ire of some local officials? Whatever their reasons, this story is the latest example of the need for local officials who are better acquainted with the Constitution.