New Jersey town settles discrimination suit

Jackson Township accused of discriminating against Orthodox Jews

Jackson Township Mayor Michael Reina (Jackson Township, iStock)
Jackson Township Mayor Michael Reina (Jackson Township, iStock)

A New Jersey town that allegedly used zoning ordinances to discriminate against the Orthodox Jewish community has settled a Department of Justice lawsuit.

Jackson Township’s council signed off on the settlement this week, Gothamist reported. The agreement, which still needs court approval, does not require the town to admit any wrongdoing.

There are penalties, though. The town will put $150,000 into a fund to compensate those hurt by the alleged actions of the community. Another $45,000 will go toward a civil penalty. The town will also be required to repeal any remaining discriminatory ordinances.

The Justice Department filed a religious discrimination lawsuit two years ago, claiming Jackson intentionally utilized zoning ordinances to restrict housing and religious schools that would have served the town’s growing Orthodox Jewish community as members relocated from enclaves in Brooklyn and Rockland County.

The lawsuit accused the town of violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Fair Housing Act.

The housing and religious school elements are connected, as the ordinances were meant to prevent the opening of religious boarding schools, according to NJ.com. The complaint stated that two ordinances passed in 2017 “expressly prohibit dormitories throughout Jackson, making it impossible for religious boarding schools to establish in the Township.” They were unanimously approved.

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“This governing body is committed to ensuring that we will do just that in order to foster one united community, respectful of all people who call Jackson home,” Mayor Michael Reina said in a statement.

That may be easier said than done, however, as civil lawsuits from the New Jersey attorney general and Agudath Israel are still pending.

About 500 Orthodox families reside in Jackson, according to NJ.com. The town borders Lakewood, which houses one of the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish communities.

[Gothamist] — Holden Walter-Warner