Justice Department Resolves Religious Discrimination Lawsuit Against Jackson Township

By Hamodia Staff

Jackson Township Municipal Building. (googlemaps)

The Justice Department today announced an agreement with the Township of Jackson, New Jersey, and the Jackson Planning Board to settle allegations that the Township and Planning Board violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The complaint filed in lawsuit in May 2020 alleged that in 2017, Jackson Township enacted two ordinances that banned dormitories and severely restricted where religious schools could locate in response to the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community in Jackson and surrounding areas. At the time, there were public comments advocating the ordinances be enacted to prevent the Orthodox Jewish community from living in or moving to Jackson.

The township enacted a series of discriminatory zoning ordinances that intentionally targeted the Orthodox Jewish community by prohibiting religious schools and associated dormitories. Township councilmembers voted unanimously to enact the ordinances.

The complaint alleged that the intent of the ordinances was to prevent Orthodox Jewish schools from opening in the Township and thereby dissuade members of that community from living in or moving to Jackson.

“Zoning restrictions that intentionally target religious communities have no place in our society,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Federal civil rights laws provide strong protections to ensure that religious communities are treated equally and not subjected to discrimination because of their beliefs. This resolution reaffirms that members of the Orthodox Jewish community — as with people of all faiths — are welcome in our communities and have the right to practice their religion free of discrimination.”

The consent order requires Jackson Township to repeal the remaining active discriminatory ordinance and replace it with an ordinance that will allow religious elementary and secondary schools, religious higher learning institutions and religious residential schools. It also requires that the new zoning ordinance treat religious schools equally with non-religious institutions that operate in the Township.

In addition, the township must train its officials and employees on the requirements of RLUIPA and the FHA, establish a procedure for receiving and resolving related complaints, pay a civil penalty of $45,000, and pay $150,000 into a settlement fund from which aggrieved persons can seek payment.

U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Hotline at (855) 281-3339. Individuals may also submit a complaint through the Civil Rights Division’s complaint portal or through the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s website.

The United States is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Horan Florio for the District of New Jersey, Senior Civil Rights Counsel in the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Division, and Trial Attorneys Ryan G. Lee and David K. Gardner of the Civil Rights Division.

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