The Jackson Township Council on Tuesday evening voted to approve a settlement with the New Jersey attorney general’s office which accused the township and its officials of “using their zoning powers to make it harder for Orthodox Jews to practice their religion and to deter them from moving there.”
The exact details of the settlement are not yet public, but are expected to be revealed in the coming days and weeks.
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 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 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.”
It 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.