According to the just-released settlement between Jackson Township and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office regarding the ongoing civil rights lawsuit, the township will be required to redraw the zoning laws for houses of worship – a key concession which was not included in the settlement with the U.S. Justice Department.
The settlement, which is memorialized in a consent order and approved by the Superior Court, provides broad equitable relief prohibiting the Township from discriminating against Orthodox Jews.
Among other things, the consent order requires the Township to adopt new policies and procedures that protect religious freedom and to repeal prior ordinances that discriminated against Orthodox Jewish residents. It also requires ongoing monitoring of the Township’s compliance with the Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
In addition, the settlement – which was approved unanimously by the Township Council last week – will also require the township to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and establish a “multi-cultural committee.”
The $575,000 settlement includes $275,000 in penalties, a $150,000 restitution fund for individuals harmed by the Township’s actions, and an additional $150,000 in suspended penalties that will be assessed if the Township violates the consent order.
“No one in New Jersey should face discrimination for their religious beliefs,” Attorney General Matt Platkin said in a statement.
“We are firmly committed to eliminating discrimination and bias across our state, and we expect local leaders to comply with our robust antidiscrimination laws. The settlement announced today is a powerful testament to our commitment to protecting residents’ right to religious freedom.”
As part of the consent order announced today, Jackson Township agreed that all of the Township’s powers, policies, laws, and practices affecting land use and zoning will comply with the LAD. Additionally, and pursuant to the consent order, the Township is permanently enjoined from discriminating against any residents or prospective residents of the Township on the basis of protected characteristics under the LAD.
Under the consent order, Jackson Township is also required to notify DCR of any decision, policy, practice, rulemaking, or vote that may affect religious land use within the Township or the free exercise of religion within the Township, including, but not limited to, sukkahs, schools, dormitories, eruvim, or the ability of Orthodox Jewish people to freely exercise their religious beliefs and practices. DCR will have the opportunity to object to any such decision, policy, practice, rulemaking, or vote.
Jackson Township also agreed to repeal zoning ordinances that were allegedly enacted to prevent Orthodox Jews from establishing religious schools and eruvim in the Township, as well as to publish a written description of the Township’s permitting requirements and procedures for sukkahs.
The consent order includes the following additional remedial measures:
- Jackson Township will create a $150,000 restitution fund for the purpose of compensating any person who has been harmed by the conduct alleged in DCR’s complaint against the Township. Individuals who believe they have been harmed can contact DCR at JacksonRestitutionFund@
- DCR will monitor Jackson Township’s compliance with the consent order for three years. The Township will share with DCR any complaint brought to the Township that alleges discrimination in zoning or land use law.
- Jackson Township will establish a multicultural committee, comprised of residents, which will work in partnership with the Township to address issues impacting Orthodox Jewish residents and to combat other discriminatory behavior within the Township. The committee will represent and reflect the demographics of the Township and will create a public education campaign and organize community events to promote diversity and cultural and religious sensitivity. It will meet quarterly and provide reports to the Township and DCR.
- Jackson Township officials, including the mayor and elected members and staff of the Jackson Township Council, the Jackson Township Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the Jackson Township Planning Board, will undergo training on discrimination in land use and zoning. They will also attend DCR trainings annually during the three-year term of the consent order.
The lawsuit against Jackson Township, which was filed in April, 2021 by then Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, alleged that Township authorities violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by using their zoning powers to make it harder for Orthodox Jews to practice their religion and to deter them from moving there.
The State’s complaint, which was filed separately from the one brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, alleged that 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 State’s complaint, 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 have 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 f’ing cockroaches.”
According to the original complaint, some Jackson officials allegedly sympathized with residents’ anger and fear that Jackson was “becoming a subdivision of Lakewood.”
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.
The State’s complaint also alleged 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.
Second, the complaint alleges that Jackson Township officials engaged in discriminatory application of land use laws to inhibit the erection of sukkahs by the Township’s Jewish residents, particularly in their front yards.
According to the complaint, after residents began to question and complain about the appearance of sukkahs, Jackson Township officials modified their interpretation of a local ordinance to effectively prohibit sukkahs in front yards.
Third, Jackson officials allegedly discriminated against Orthodox Jews by enacting zoning ordinances in 2017 that essentially banned the establishment of yeshivas and dormitories, where yeshiva students typically reside so as to avoid the distractions of secular life.
Fourth, the complaint alleges that Jackson discriminated against Orthodox Jews by enacting a 2017 zoning ordinance that targeted and effectively banned the creation of eruvim – symbolic, boundary-defined areas in which observant Orthodox Jews are permitted to engage in certain activities otherwise prohibited on the Sabbath and during the holiday of Yom Kippur.
This is a developing story and will be updated.