Foundation for Litigant Parity
THE U.S. SUPREME COURT RULES TO NOT HEAR
THE BAR MITZVAH CASE, WHITNUM ACCUSES JUDGE UNDERHILL OF BIAS
The Town of Greenwich allowed the private Bar Mitzvah of Aner Shofty at the Greenwich Town Hall on May 15, 2011, and politico Lee Whitnum was precluded, twice, from holding a Christian Confirmation at the same venue six months and a year later after the bar mitzvah, that was the gravamen of the Whitnum v. Town of Greenwich 3:11-CV-1402 which went all the way to the US Supreme Court.
Candidate for Governor (CT-D) Lee Whitnum’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Whitnum v. Town of Greenwich 16-8040 was denied on April 24, 2017 with the new Supreme Court justice Gorsuch not included in the Order. Whitnum claims that the ruling is precedent setting as it allows the Jewish Community the power to hold private bar mitzvahs on municipal property, including the religious symbol Torah be brought in. A ruling that Whitnum finds appauling.
“I’ve been fighting for six years that the rules need to be the same for all ethnic groups and the Supreme Court refused to hear this case,” said Whitnum.
Whitnum argued that it was double standard and violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause and Article 7 of the Connecticut Constitution. Another aspect of the 4-pronged case was the issue of the access granted to the Town which far exceeds the time, the resources and the room given to any other ethnic group. The flag raising the private Bar Mitzvah hours later at the same venue both included hundreds of people and at last two separate bands and dancing.
“The Town of Greenwich for the same $350 custodial fee not only allowed the Torah to be brought to Town Hall for a private Bar Mitzvah; the access and time was never before granted to another religious or ethnic group,” said Whitnum.
Whitnum claimed that the Town celebrating the flag raising was only one prong of a four pronged case and that the press simplified this case and failed to recognize all aspects of the case.
Whitnum blames Connecticut District Court Judge Underhill for the six-year battle. “This case was always between Underhill and me. He played so many tricks along the way. I scarcely know where to begin. He blind-siding with dismissal on one prong of a four pronged case; in doing so he left causes of action open, “said Whitnum. “Underhill claimed on the record on June 16, 2015, “You’ve come forward with sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that a Bar Mitzvah was held at the Town Hall...”
“Okay, so then what was the problem? Why couldn’t he confer a partial win?” asks Whitnum. Whitnum claims Underhill, for four years, refused to allow the amending of the complaints in violation of Rule 15, the depositing of two material witnesses who just happen to the be the most powerful members of the Jewish community: Pamela .Ehrenkranz of the United Jewish Appeal and Rabbi Sklarz.
Whitnum claims the worst thing Judge Underhill did was to claim the affidavits from Whiteside and Walsh had never been submitted even though they were turned in with 31 pieces of evidence including seven depositions including that by Senator Richard Blumenthal who had attended the event.
“Underhill claimed the affidavits from the two people who tried to the book Christian Confirmation for me had never happened. At my insistence the clerk at June 16, 2015 hearing pulled the affidavits from the accordion file, filed on September 9, 2013, and as proof. Those affidavits were the main point back in 2013 with the Motion for Summary Judgment; I should have prevailed then,” Whitnum argue to the US Supreme Court.
“Judge Underhill ignored the evidence submitted. I worked so hard for so many years. How can I prevail with a judge who is hell bent to make sure I don’t prevail? Truly I believe his motivation was either loyalty was to the powerful Jewish Community or fear of the ‘anti-Semitic label.”
Whitnum claims that Underhill blindsided with dismissal with an argument never brought up by the other side on June 16, 2015 claiming that since whitnum had not viewed the bar mitzvah she had no standing. Whitnum argued to the US Supreme Court that it was an impossible benchmark as the bar mitzvah was a separate event, an RSVP event behind closed doors and she couldn’t have attended if she wanted to.
“It was an RSVP event, held behind closed doors. Underhill didn’t state at the hearing but he was obviously mimicking the Salazar v. Buono case in which there was a Christian cross case in the Mohave Desert. But, that case and this one were very different as the Christian Cross was out in the open. Aner Shofty’s Bar Mitzvah, including the Torah being brought in from Carmel Academy was a behind closed door event. It was an impossible benchmark.”
Whitnum claims the Press inaccurately reported that this case was only about the flag rising to commemorate Israel’s 68th anniversary and that she was somehow out-of-line. “I was called an anti-Semite over-and-over again in the press and in editorials they printed.”
Whitnum claims the Town’s law firm of Goldstein and Peck also made this case about Whitnum and having a political agenda – instead of about the law or the case.
“The Town could have easily ended this case six years ago. All I wanted was a $1 and for the Town of Greenwich to apologize and state they made a mistake by allowing a private Bar Mitzvah in town hall and to say they are committed to equal treatment of all ethnic groups.’ The town refused to do that,” said Whitnum. “Cleary they stayed in this case for six years, to smear me as an anti-Semite always emphasizing one side of the case – the flag raising. So what did they win? The right for Jewish people to hold a Bar Mitzvah in a municipal building? The right to bring a clearly religious item, the Torah, into a municipal building?”
Whitnum claims all along she was fighting hard so that rules would be same for everyone and that she has been widely smeared due to double standard.
“In the United States you are either pro-pro-Israel or an anti-Semite and there is no middle ground,” said Whitnum who claims, “I have never uttered an anti-Semite statement in my life. I am however anti-Zionist as I am opposed to the US funding of Israel a country whose values are contrary to my own – the funding makes us a target, worldwide, for our hypocrisy.”
Whitnum blames the press for failing to make the distinction between Judaism and Zionism. “Judaism is a religion and culture 4000 old, Zionism is a political movement 70 years old and the ruling philosophy in Israel. The lack of distinction in minds of Americans makes discussion impossible – fear of being labelled an anti-Semite.”
Whitnum claims things are changing slowly as more well-informed politicians feel brave enough to endure the expected “anti-Semitic labelling” backlash. “It is hard,” said Whitnum. “Look what has happened to me.”
Whitnum points out that stopping the funding of Israel. “But really I am most proud of John Kerry who devoted his entire farewell address to Israel, his most memorable line being: “Israel can either be Jewish or Democratic, it cannot be both.”
“My interpretation of what he is saying is that Israel is not currently a democracy and I agree,” Said Whitnum adding: “In Israel there are 3.5 million people who are not citizens of the country where they were born because they were not born Jewish. That is not democracy.”
“I truly believe stopping the glorification and exorbitant US funding of Israel is the only way to get Israel to evolve into the 21st century. If not, The United States is on a collision course with destiny. I fought hard for my country to prevent that,” said Whitnum who submitted a Motion on Standing and Memorandum to fight for the right to make the argument to address this issue which was the fourth prong of the case.
“Judge Underhill dismissed the argument as best left to Congress,. "Too bad, the issue of the funding of Israel will remain in Congress where discussion will never happen as the Israel lobby (AIPAC) is so powerful. Really the only hope we have now is term limits,” said Whitnum. “But that is another battle for another day.”
In the meantime, Whitnum is disappointed in Judge Underhill and the US Supreme Court justices. “They really let me down.” said Whitnum. . “I believe their refusal to state the obvious, that a private Bar Mitzvah in Town Hall is violation of the Establishment Clause, is proof of the power of the Jewish Community and symptomatic of the a much larger problem that extends, beyond Greenwich, to our foreign policy and the cause-and-effect of terrorism.”
In the meantime, it appears the Judge Underhill’s ruling means that the Jewish Community may hold a Bar Mitzvah ceremony in municipal property across the country and that they may bring in the Torah.
“What have I done? I fight for a much-needed evolution in our ability to discuss Israel, instead now we have a US Supreme Court ruling that grants preferential treatment,” said Whitnum. “We are moving backward.”
Greenwich is the home of the 1989 landmark Establishment Clause case of the Christian Cross on the Cos Cob Firehouse.
Whitnum is a 2018 democratic candidate for governor whose stated mission is to clean up the Connecticut Judiciary. ###