The Justice Department has settled a lawsuit it brought against Jackson Township, New Jersey for allegedly passing discriminatory zoning ordinances targeting Orthodox Jews.
On Wednesday, the DOJ announced it had reached an agreement with Jackson Township and the Jackson Planning Board over allegations that in 2017 it violated the land use and fair housing rights of the Orthodox community by passing a set of zoning ordinances that intentionally targeted observant Jews by prohibiting religious schools and dormitories, which made it difficult for members of the community to continue living in the area.
The complaint alleged that the ordinance’s intent was to block Orthodox Jews form opening religious schools in the town, which would discourage members of the community from living or moving to Jackson Township.
The consent agreement was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey and if approved by the court would settle the May 2020 DOJ lawsuit against Jackson Township.
“[The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)] and the Fair Housing Act protect the rights of religious communities to worship and obtain housing in communities free from discrimination and unequal treatment,” U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Philip R. Sellinger said. “This office remains steadfast in its commitment to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws, and as the proposed consent order demonstrates, we will continue to take steps to protect the civil rights of the Orthodox Jewish community and all communities throughout this district.”
“Zoning restrictions that intentionally target religious communities have no place in our society,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. “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 zoning ordinances and replace them with an ordinance that will enable the opening of religious schools, to train its staff in the use of RLUIPA and the Fair Housing Act, to pay a civil penalty of $45,000, and to create a $150,000 settlement fund from which those targeted by the ordinances can seek funds.
In April 2021, a separate civil rights lawsuit was filed by the attorney general of New Jersey alleging that township officials violated anti-discrimination law by using zoning powers to deter Orthodox Jews from practicing their religion in the town.