A lawsuit filed by Agudath Israel of America charging Jackson Township with violating the constitutionally protected religious rights of Orthodox Jewish residents has been amended to include an additional count after area residents found their efforts to construct an eruv stonewalled by a newly enacted ordinance that they believe is yet another example of deliberate discrimination targeting the township’s growing Jewish population.
The original lawsuit filed by the Agudah and WR Properties alleged that a pair of ordinances passed by the Jackson Township Council last spring banning schools in residential areas and all dormitories were enacted to prevent Jackson’s Orthodox Jewish residents from creating crucial educational institutions needed to educate their children. Now newly amended, the lawsuit also charges that similar motivation was behind a recent update to section 372-8 of the Jackson town code, removing any possible exemptions from a law that banned the placement of objects in the public right of way.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of the Agudah’s New Jersey office, explained that the newly formed Jackson Eruv Association (JEA) approached the township council last spring to discuss the construction of an eruv that would comply with local zoning regulations. Shortly thereafter, the Township issued notifications reminding residents that Section 372-8 forbade items in the public right of way including signs, basketball hoops and eruv markers, slapping violators with hefty fines for non-compliance.
Minor modifications made by the Township Council to Section 372-8 in September had major ramifications for Jackson’s Orthodox Jewish residents. In addition to changing the terminology so that it accurately referred to the governing body as the “Township Council” instead of the “Township Committee,” the wording that allowed for possible exclusions to the ordinance was removed, making it impossible to construct a legal eruv anywhere in Jackson Township.
“There are probably 200 ordinances on the books that still refer to the ‘Township Committee’ instead of the ‘Township Council’ but this is the only one that they have amended,” noted Rabbi Schnall, who has been working closely with the JEA.
Three members of the Township Council told the JEA that they only approved the modifications in order to update the Township code to the proper form of government and that they welcomed a continued dialogue about the eruv. But all efforts to reach out to those members have been ignored, leaving no choice but to take legal action, a decision made in consultation with members of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, said Rabbi Schnall.
“We made serious efforts to communicate with the Township Council and even after bringing 300 people to the last township meeting to show how important this is to us, they continue to ignore our respectful ask,” said Rabbi Schnall. “At this point, we reluctantly concluded that our only recourse would be in a court of law.”