The federal government agreed to settle a lawsuit with a New Jersey town accused of passing laws to ban Orthodox Jewish religious boarding schools.
The US Department of Justice had sued Jackson Township for passing two laws in 2017 that banned dormitories and limited where religious schools could be built in what the feds say was an effort to discourage Orthodox Jews from “living or moving” into the town.
Jackson agreed to rescind the “discriminatory” ordinance and pay a $45,000 fine, the DOJ announced Wednesday. The town will also pay $150,000 into a fund for anyone who may have suffered from the alleged discrimination, according to a news release.
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“Zoning restrictions that intentionally target religious communities have no place in our society,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement.
“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.”
Jackson, in Ocean County, had passed the two zoning ordinances as the Orthodox Jewish population in the region was experiencing a boom, the DOJ said.
Its government boards approved the changes to make it “impossible or nearly impossible” to operate a religious school in Jackson, the DOJ claimed. One ordinance banned dormitories, which are a fixture of Orthodox religious schools, and another removed schools as an acceptable building use in many parts of Jackson, the DOJ said.
The federal government sued in May 2020, saying Jackson violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Fair Housing Act.
About 1,000 Orthodox families among the town’s 59,000 residents are Orthodox Jewish, the federal government said in its proposed consent decree.
As part of the three-year settlement, which still needs to be approved by a judge, officials agreed to pass a new ordinance that will allow religious schools of all types, including residential schools. They’ll also have to train employees on federal anti-discrimination laws.
Mayor Michael Reina said in a statement that Jackson “welcomes and embraces people of all faiths, races and ethnic backgrounds.”
“It’s time for Jackson Township to move forward,” Reina said. “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.”