Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 31, 2020

US DOJ FILES SUIT AGAINST JACKSON, NEW JERSEY ALLEGING ZONING CODE USED TO KEEP OUT ORTHODOX JEWISH SCHOOLS AND RESIDENTS

This abstract appears in the USDOJ’s newsletter, Religious Freedom in Focus (May 2020).

On May 20, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the Township of Jackson and its planning board, alleging that they violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by targeting the Orthodox Jewish community through zoning ordinances restricting religious schools and barring religious boarding schools.

“Using zoning laws to target Orthodox Jewish individuals for intentional discrimination and exclude them from a community is illegal and utterly incompatible with this Nation’s values,” said Eric Dreiband, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, on the day the suit was filed.  “Let me be clear. The Department of Justice will use the full force of its authority to stop such anti-Semitic conduct and prevent its recurrence.”

Craig Carpenito, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, also remarked on the suit filing, stating:  “Religious discrimination has no place in our society and runs counter to the founding principles of our nation.  No religious community should ever face unlawful barriers or be singled out for inferior treatment. This complaint reflects our continued commitment to combat discrimination and unequal treatment.”

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, alleges that the township passed and applied two zoning ordinances in a manner that discriminated against the Orthodox Jewish community.  The ordinances prohibit dormitories throughout Jackson, making it impossible for religious boarding schools such as Orthodox Jewish yeshivas to operate there. Although Jackson passed these ordinances to prevent dormitories anywhere in Jackson, the planning board has since approved, without requiring a variance, plans for two nonreligious projects with dormitory-type housing.

The complaint further alleges that the township and planning board enacted the ordinances against a backdrop of extreme animus by some Jackson residents and township decision-makers toward the Orthodox Jewish community and a movement by residents to keep Orthodox Jewish individuals from settling in Jackson.  The complaint alleges that the township and planning board’s actions towards the Orthodox Jewish community violate RLUIPA’s non-discrimination and equal-terms provisions, as well as the FHA.

 


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