BREAKING: Jackson To Add Zoning For Shuls To Settle AG’s Lawsuit

Details of Jackson Township’s settlement with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office over its lawsuit alleging anti-Orthodox Jewish discrimination have been made public today.

The settlement, reviewed by Lakewood Alerts, includes several key provisions – including one that requires Jackson to set zoning laws that would allow for shuls.

The full settlement can be read here.

Specifically, the settlement mentions 4 key points regarding shuls that Jackson may not do:

1) Impose or implement a land use or zoning regulation that treats a religious assembly on less equal terms than the same or a substantially similar nonreligious assembly or practice;
2) Discriminating against any religious assembly or practice on the basis of actual or perceived religion or religious denomination;
3) Coercing, intimidating, threatening, interfering with, or retaliating against any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his or her having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his or her having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right granted or protected by the LAD (Law Against Discrimination); and
4) Otherwise engaging in any conduct that violates the LAD.

Under the terms of the settlement, Jackson officials will have 30 days to provide the AG with permitting requirements for sukkahs, at which point the plaintiffs will have a chance to review them and give their approval.

The Township is also required to replace their yeshiva dormitory ban “with an Ordinance permitting schools in numerous residential and other zoning districts, and permitting associated housing such as dormitories as an accessory to private, parochial, and public schools in certain zoning districts.”

Township officials will also have to provide an ordinance allowing for the establishment of eruvs in Jackson.

Additionally, Jackson Township will have to form a Multicultural Committee “reflective of the demographics of the Township, including, but not limited to, with regard to religion, race, age, gender, length of residence in the Township, occupation, educational attainment, and prior involvement in Jackson’s community, volunteer, and civic organizations.” This committee will meet at least quarterly, and provide reports ensuring that there is no discriminatory conduct by the government against any residents.

Lastly, the settlement requires that Jackson Township pay various fines and fees, which in sum are about $500,000.

This particular lawsuit was sparked by Jackson residents who united collectively under the informal group “Jackson Strong” to oppose Orthodox Jewish residents moving in. They recruited Jackson officials like Barry Calogero and Rob Nixon, who allegedly initiated anti-Orthodox measures, such as staking out and spying on Jewish homes where prayers were taking place.

The lawsuit, filed under then-AG Gurbir Grewal and continued under AG Matt Platkin, alleges the Jackson’s adoption of discriminatory zoning ordinances and enforcement practices was motivated in part by officials’ desire to appease Township residents who reacted to the Township’s growing Orthodox Jewish population by expressing hate and fear on social media, in complaints to Township officials, and in public meetings.

According to the lawsuit, starting around 2015, a vocal group of Jackson residents – such as Elenor Hannum’s CUPON and Jackson Strong – began complaining to local officials about an influx of Orthodox Jews into Jackson Township. Some residents amplified their views in hateful social media posts, which have included statements like “we need to get rid of them like Hitler did” and “filthy [expletive] cockroaches.”

In response, officials, specifically Rob Nixon and Barry Caligero, devised plans to create and enforce rules that would stymie the religious observances of Orthodox Jews in Jackson and, as one former Zoning Board member said in a Facebook post, quell “the tsunami of orthodoxy that is mounting at the border.”

Through ordinances and enforcement actions, the complaint alleges, Jackson Township exploited its power to regulate land use and housing to disrupt vital aspects of Orthodox Jewish life in Jackson and to interfere with the ability of observant Orthodox Jews to live there.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that “Jackson Township dedicated significant resources to monitoring the homes of Orthodox Jews… even after officials warned that taxpayer funds and government resources were being wasted and that officials were not finding significant code violations.”

The lawsuit being settled also accuses Jackson Township officials of having engaged in discriminatory application of land use laws to inhibit the erection of sukkahs by Jewish residents. It also alleges that Jackson officials discriminated against Orthodox Jews by enacting zoning ordinances in 2017 that essentially banned the establishment of yeshivas and dormitories.

Lastly, the lawsuit alleges that Jackson discriminated against Orthodox Jews by enacting a 2017 zoning ordinance that targeted and effectively banned the creation of eruvim.

The allegation involving the discriminatory enactment of ordinances barring yeshivas and their dormitories overlaps with allegations in a lawsuit filed by the federal Department of Justice against Jackson Township in May 2020, which Jackson previously agreed to settle.

 

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