Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against Jackson Township for Discriminatory Ordinances Targeting Orthodox Jewish Religious Schools
NEWARK, N.J. – The Justice Department announced an agreement today with Jackson Township, New Jersey, and the Jackson Planning Board to settle allegations that they violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) when they passed and applied a series of discriminatory zoning ordinances that intentionally targeted the Orthodox Jewish community by prohibiting religious schools and associated dormitories.
The proposed consent order, which was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey and must still be approved by the court, would resolve a lawsuit the United States filed in May 2020 alleging that the Jackson Township and the Jackson Planning Board passed zoning ordinances that broadly prohibited religious schools and banned schools with dormitories, both of which are important to providing religious education within the Orthodox Jewish community. 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.
“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,” Philip R. Sellinger, United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, 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 complaint alleges that in 2017, Jackson Township enacted two ordinances that banned dormitories and severely restricted where religious schools could locate. These ordinances were enacted in response to the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community in Jackson and surrounding areas and amid public comments arguing that the ordinances should be enacted to prevent the Orthodox Jewish community from living in or moving to Jackson. Township councilmembers voted unanimously to enact the ordinances.
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. The consent order also requires that the new zoning ordinance treat religious schools equally with non-religious institutions that operate in the township. The consent order requires the township to train its officials and employees on the requirements of RLUIPA and the FHA, establish a procedure for receiving and resolving RLUIPA and FHA complaints, pay a civil penalty of $45,000, and pay $150,000 into a settlement fund from which aggrieved persons can seek payment.
Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination in land use or zoning decisions, or discrimination in housing based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and familial status, may contact the Civil Rights Division Housing and Civil Enforcement Section at 1-833-591-0291, or the 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 at https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/civil-rights-enforcement.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Horan Florio, 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, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.