Agudath Israel of America and WR Property, a property owner in Jackson, have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Jersey against the Township of Jackson, New Jersey, challenging new Jackson zoning regulations, asserting that they are intended to prevent Orthodox Jews from opening schools or dormitories in Jackson. The suit alleges that the regulations were enacted with the express purpose of such anti-Orthodox discrimination, and are in clear violation of Federal law.
The ordinances that are being challenged in Federal court were passed this March by the Town Council of Jackson, which borders Lakewood, in an area where many Orthodox Jews live. The lawsuit contends that the regulations were clearly motivated by a desire to prevent Orthodox Jews from moving to Jackson, and “by discriminatory animus against the Orthodox Jewish community.”
The suit cites a number of examples of such animus, expressed by public officials and by vocal segments of the public. Last year former Township Council President Rob Nixon called an Agudath Israel leader’s suggestion that Orthodox Jews consider Jackson as a place to live “reprehensible.”
Nixon went so far as to file a complaint against the Agudath Israel leader with the U.S. Justice Department and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, both of which saw no merit to Nixon’s complaint.
Other allegations in the Complaint include recitations of statements made by local residents at Township meetings and in online forums, such as “All of your problems only stem from the Ultra- Religious! The Hasidics and Ultra-Orthodox!”
Citing these and numerous other examples of anti-Orthodox animus in recent years, and particularly surrounding the enactment of the no school and the no dormitory ordinances in Jackson, the Agudath Israel and WR Property lawsuit alleges violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection, Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses and Freedom of Association principles; four clauses of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000; the Fair Housing Act; and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination.
The suit seeks a judgment holding the township’s ordinances unconstitutional and illegal, and their annulment, as well as attorneys’ fees and nominal damages.
According to Rabbi Avi Schnall, Agudath Israel’s New Jersey Office director, “Orthodox Jews, like any other person, have the basic right, protected by federal law, to live where they please. Local laws intended to keep people out of an area or Township based on religion or ethnicity violate Federal law Orthodox Jews have the right to open schools, build houses of worship, and develop businesses, just like any other group, and this essential value of freedom of religion, on which America was founded, is being denied.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Storzer & Associates, a law firm that has vast experience in representing religious communities’ interests in land use disputes, and with whom Agudath Israel has worked over the past few years.