The attorney general of New Jersey announced on Tuesday that the state has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Jackson Township, NJ alleging that township officials violated anti-discrimination law by using zoning powers to deter Orthodox Jews from practicing their religion and from moving there.
According to a statement, the state’s case rests on allegations that Jackson officials used discriminatory zoning ordinances and enforcement practices at the behest of town residents who spoke out on social media and in public meetings, including with hateful comments, against Jackson’s increasing Orthodox Jewish population.
“We’ve filed this lawsuit because bias and hate have no home in New Jersey, and we will not allow some vocal residents’ intolerance to drive local government decisions,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Like all public servants, municipal officials have a duty to uphold the law, not weaponize it against specific groups because of what they believe or how they worship. Today’s lawsuit should send that message to anyone in New Jersey who needs to hear it.”
Jackson Township borders the municipality of Lakewood, which has a population of over 50,000 Orthodox Jews, including the second largest yeshiva in the world.
According to the state’s lawsuit, beginning in 2015 a “vocal group of Jackson residents” began complaining to town officials about a large number of Orthodox Jews moving into the area. Since that time, certain residents have expressed extremist views, including hateful social media posts with statements such as “We need to get rid of them like Hitler did” and “filthy ******* cockroaches.”
The lawsuit alleges that certain Jackson officials were sympathetic to residents’ views that Jackson was “becoming a subdivision of Lakewood.”
It is claimed that town residents were against having Orthodox Jews in Jackson because they “refuse to assimilate” and believed they would “destroy our neighborhoods.”
Town officials allegedly crafted a plan to create new rules that would deter the religious practices of Orthodox Jews in Jackson, and that would, as one former Zoning Board member stated on Facebook, stop “the tsunami of orthodoxy that is mounting at the border.”
The lawsuit alleges that by using land use and housing ordinances and enforcement Jackson was able to “disrupt vital aspects of Orthodox Jewish life” and make living there not viable for Orthodox Jews.
“We will not allow municipalities to discriminate against residents because of their religious beliefs or to take actions based on residents’ intolerance,” said Aaron Scherzer, Chief of Strategic Initiatives and Enforcement at the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.