The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that it has filed a lawsuit against Jackson Township in Ocean County, N.J., accusing its planning board with “religious discrimination” and “antisemitic conduct” towards Orthodox Jewish residents.
The complaint, filed in the District of New Jersey, alleges that the township passed ordinances in a manner that discriminated against the Orthodox Jewish community, violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
RLUIPA is a federal law that protects religious institutions from unduly burdensome or discriminatory land-use regulations.
Both ordinances expressly prohibit dormitories throughout Jackson, making it impossible for religious boarding schools such as Orthodox Jewish yeshivot to operate there, according to the DOJ.
Although Jackson passed these ordinances to prevent dormitories anywhere in Jackson, the planning board has since approved, without requiring a variance, the 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 towards the Orthodox Jewish community and a movement by residents to keep Orthodox Jewish individuals from settling there.
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, according to the complaint.
“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, U.S. assistant attorney general for the civil-rights division. “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.”